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Press freedom suffered significant setbacks in 2011, says IFJ report

(IFJ/IFEX) - January 21, 2012 - A new International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) report reveals that press freedom in China suffered significant setbacks in 2011.

China's New Clampdown: Press Freedom in China 2011, released today by the IFJ Asia-Pacific in Hong Kong, reports that as the scent of the Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa drifted towards China, central authorities tightened restrictions on the press, and stepped up intimidation of journalists.

During the protests associated with the call for a so-called "Chinese Jasmine Revolution", scores of media workers, bloggers, human rights lawyers, artists and activists were illegally detained and tortured. Foreign journalists were among those assaulted. Chinese authorities also suddenly and unilaterally changed the regulations on news reporting for non-mainland media, reversing many of the reforms introduced after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The report also outlines various cases where news stories were suppressed by Chinese authorities, as investigative journalists and media outlets were targeted for reporting perceived to be "negative" by China's censors. At least 16 mainland journalists were forced out of their work place, through sackings or organisational restructuring under pressure from Chinese authorities in 2011. Police also used state secrecy laws to harass and threaten a Chinese journalist investigating the arrest of a civil servant in Luoyang, in eastern China.

Intimidation and assaults on journalists continue in Mainland China. One female journalist was attacked outside her office, and another journalist was killed and his laptop stolen while investigating the sale of reused cooking oil.

Despite these challenges, the IFJ was inspired by many examples of courageous journalists in China taking a stand against censorship. After a train crash in Wenzhou, in China's south-eastern Zhejiang Province, media were ordered by government propaganda departments to cease critical reporting of the disaster. Despite this, many members of the media fought to resist the order. In response, the journalists were subjected to official rebukes, fines, suspension from their duties and demotions.

The IFJ was also buoyed by the response of China's General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) to concerns raised by an IFJ report that the government was allowing the creation of media blacklists by government departments or institutions. The GAPP publicly pledged that it would not allow the development of such blacklists.

However, the IFJ noted authorities in China began to use more sophisticated methods to monitor and control the media in 2011. Authorities are now disseminating censorship directives verbally, rather than in the written form, in order to avoid external scrutiny. A new body, the State Internet Information Office, was also established by the State Council to oversee the online media environment.

The media landscape in Hong Kong also became increasingly hostile in 2011. Five journalists were detained and charged with criminal offences by police while exercising their duties as reporters. Journalists were stopped by security guards and police while reporting on the first official visit to Hong Kong by Li Keqiang, Vice Premier of China, in August. Furthermore, the Hong Kong Government selected a civil servant as the Director of Broadcasting of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), rather than an independent figure, disregarding overwhelming public opposition to the appointment. In the private sector, an independent investigation by the Broadcasting Authority of Hong Kong found that senior management of Asia Television Ltd (ATV) had interfered with the editorial independence of its newsroom.

Media freedom in the Macau Special Administrative Region is also increasingly under threat. The Macau Government is currently considering the establishment of a statutory press council to oversee all media in Macau, a proposal met with opposition by many local journalists.

The report urges the Central Government of China and the governments of the Special Administrative Regions to cease citing the protection of privacy as an excuse to enact laws that jeopardise the people's rights to access of information and press freedom. The report also urges the Hong Kong Government to enact access to information and archives laws, to facilitate accountable and transparent governance.

"With the appointment of new senior leadership in 2012, China has an opportunity to fulfil its commitment to create a more open, responsible society, and to uphold the media's role as a defender of the public's right to information," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"The IFJ calls on the Chinese Government to end censorship and restrictions, uphold the rights enshrined in the country's Constitution, ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and issue orders to all levels of government that journalists and writers must not be punished serving the public interest in the course of their work".

Download the report:
China_IFJ_new_clampdown.pdf (1538 KB)

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