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Reports of Health Ministry media blacklist create concerns among journalists

(IFJ/IFEX) - June 20, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is disturbed to learn that the Ministry of Health of China is compiling a media blacklist to prevent "misleading" information from entering the public domain.

Director of China Health Education Center Mao Qunan and spokesperson of the media and promotion office said at a food safety forum on June 13 in Beijing that the Ministry of Health (MOH) would prepare a list to curb certain journalists and media workers from "polluting the communications environment", according to a number of overseas media reports. Jinghua newspaper reported on June 15 that Mao said the list is designed to prevent the public being misled with malicious information.

Focus Taiwan news agency reported that Mao said: "We plan to increase our efforts to create that list as quickly as possible. With the list, we will be able to trace who first started a widely-spread rumour."

"Media has to bear social stability responsibilities and procure economic growth and development," Mao added.

Ministry spokesperson Deng Haihua denied there was any intention to create a blacklist, according to a June 16 report by Radio and Television of Hong Kong. Deng said that Mao instead is focused on the media's promotion of a separate office which is also under the authority of the ministry.

Food safety and environmental pollution have become key matters of public concern in China in recent years. One prominent example is the Sanlu tainted milk scandal in 2008, where a number of departments including the MOH did not release timely information to the public. The scandal saw at least six children die and 30,000 toddlers and babies suffer from kidney stones after consuming tainted infant formula.

"Reports of a so-called blacklist are of grave concern because such a list will prevent the media from accurately reporting on, and people from finding out about, urgent incidents that might affect their health and safety," the IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"The IFJ does not condone media knowingly reporting misleading information, but it is crucial that all information relating to public health is released in a timely manner by the government."

The IFJ urges the World Health Organisation to look into the matter, and the All China Journalists' Association to speak up on behalf of all media personnel on this serious matter.

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