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IFJ demands reinstatement of journalist suspended over disaster reports

(IFJ/IFEX) - August 2, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) demands the immediate reinstatement of a China Central Television producer who was suspended from his job over coverage of a high-speed rail disaster in China's east.

The IFJ has learned that Wang Qinglei, producer of 24 Hours, was suspended on July 27 after the program's host questioned the Railway Ministry's speedy resolution of the July 23 accident in which at least 40 people were killed. The host also questioned officials' dismissal on July 26 of safety concerns about China's high-speed rail network.

"The IFJ calls on Cai Fuchao, Director of State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, to investigate Wang Qinglei's suspension and ensure China Central Television unconditionally reinstates him immediately," IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

Another program, News 1+1, also on China Central Television, was suddenly taken off the network's schedule on July 26 without explanation, after criticism of a Railway Ministry spokesman on the program on July 25.

After six days of relatively unfettered media coverage of the disaster in Wenzhou, the Central Propaganda Department issued an order to all media via a cell phone on July 29. It came after Guangdong Propaganda Department issued an order on July 24 demanding six local media outlets remove journalists from the accident scene.

"Due to public opinion about the railway disaster becoming complicated, all media including sister newspapers, magazines and websites should immediately play down the relevant report except to report information from the relevant authorities and positively report the aftermath," the order said. It added that "no further report and no commentary" were permitted.

On July 30, the Beijing Propaganda Department issued an order to all local media stating, "No report or commentary about the company responsible for the signal system of the high-speed railway and local metro railway system." The order also reminded cyber-police to control the flow of information online regarding coverage of the accident.

"Directives to restrict reporting on the Wenzhou rail disaster are denying the public their right to be informed about issues related to public safety," IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"The IFJ applauds those metropolitan newspapers and national media, including China Central Television and The Economic Observer, for keeping the public informed regardless of pressure from various authorities."

The directives follow Premier Wen Jiabao's demands that the Railways Minister prioritise public safety following the accident.

The IFJ also urges Premier Wen to swiftly investigate the new restrictions on media and to order all propaganda departments to desist from issuing such orders in the future.
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