(IFJ/IFEX) - January 30, 2011 - A new International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) report has uncovered scores of restrictive orders issued by China's authorities in 2010 that block information on public health, disasters, corruption and civil unrest.
"Voices of Courage: Press Freedom in China 2010", released today by IFJ Asia-Pacific in Hong Kong, outlines more than 80 restrictive orders issued last year by authorities in China. The orders are a mere sample of the vast array of controls on information that journalists and media workers are known to grapple with when reporting the news.
"The IFJ has uncovered a series of orders issued by China's propaganda machine in 2010, a worrying indicator that China's leaders are not fulfilling the promises they made to the international community ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to move towards a more open media environment," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.
"In January, a new raft of restrictions landed, indicating that censorship is likely to continue apace in China in 2011, further limiting people's ability to find out what is going on in their local communities, across China, its territories and elsewhere in the world."
Despite positive statements from China's leadership in 2010 confirming the media's important watchdog role in society, journalists and media workers continued to face restrictions, harassment and intimidation during the year, including:
* A restrictive order in March prevented any independent reporting of a defective vaccine which had killed or disabled about 100 children. Editor-in-chief of China Economic Times Bao Yueyang was later removed from his position after allowing reports on the vaccine to be published after the order was issued.
* Media was ordered not to re-publish even state-run Xinhua News Agency reports on a deadly explosion in Aksu City, Xinjiang, in August.
* Economic Observer journalist Qiu Ziming became an online "wanted person" of the Lishui City security bureau in Zhejiang in July after reporting a listed company had breached stock exchange rules.
* Zhao Lianhai, a former journalist and parent of a victim of the 2008 Sanlu tainted milk scandal, was sentenced to two-and-a-half-years' jail in November, for organising people to gather in front of government buildings and for being interviewed on the street.
* The Law of the People's Republic of China on Guarding State Secrets was amended in October to provide possible jail terms for people who leaked secret information through the internet.
* The Central Propaganda Department banned in September reports on high vacancy rates of residential apartments and the insufficient income resource problems people experienced.
These violations of journalists' rights not only block access to information but also serve to foster China's endemic culture of self-censorship, driven by the extraordinary pressure that journalists and media workers face each day.
The report notes positive sentiments aired by China's power-holders, both past and present, during 2010. Premier Wen Jiabao gave a speech to the National People's Congress in March which referred to the media's important oversight role in society, a tacit acknowledgement of the closed media environment in the country. An open letter signed by 23 well-known senior ex-Communist Party officials in October called on the Central Propaganda Department to end media censorship.
However, in practice, there is little evidence of a change in attitude by authorities and the Central Government.
The report's launch comes as new directives were issued to media following a meeting of officials of China's Central and Provincial Propaganda Department on January 4. The directives limit reporting on subjects such as natural disasters, collective action (protests), criminal trials, corruption cases and the demolition of homes. The term "civil society" is banned, as is the practice of online voting.
Throughout 2010, central and provincial authorities sought to control and restrict print, broadcast and online media. In some cases, the controls extend beyond those placed on individuals. The family and associates of 2010 Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo were placed under intense pressure with many, including Liu's wife, placed under house arrest or prevented from travelling abroad.
Many courageous journalists in China took a stand against censorship through the year by taking part in protests or signature campaigns. In August, journalists in Yichun City, Heilongjiang, protested after four of their colleagues were detained by police, and successfully secured their release.
In taking these actions, journalists expose themselves to considerable personal and professional risk, facing demotions, fines or incarceration for so-called breaches. In June, media workers initiated an online boycott petition when management at one media outlet tried to stop other media outlets from reporting that three of the company's journalists were reportedly punished with "re-education" after they had reported news which involved local government officials.
"Voices of Courage: Press Freedom in China 2010" calls on China's Government to end censorship and restrictions, uphold the country's Constitution, order the immediate release of all jailed journalists and media workers in China, and issue orders to all levels of government that journalists and writers must not be punished for doing their jobs serving the public interest.
The report urges China to implement the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it has signed and which includes the right to form independent trade unions.
"China has an opportunity to make good on its pledges to create a more open society, and to guarantee the oversight role of journalists and media workers," White said.
"We urge the Central Government of China and the Special Administrative Government of Hong Kong to take action to honour their promises and live up to international standards."
Download the report:
voices_of_courage.pdf (1032 KB)
The IFJ also launches today a handbook for journalists: "Handbook for Investigative Reporting In China".
The manual, designed to enhance professional standards, provides advice to assist in protecting journalists and media professionals in their daily work.
The handbook also lists Chinese laws and international instruments which journalists can cite when contending with vexatious and unwarranted actions from the authorities, such as surveillance, detention and/or interrogation, or restrictions on access to public information.