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IFJ urges free reporting of Wukan village elections

(IFJ/IFEX) - In advance of the March 4, 2012 elections in Wukan village, IFJ has urged the Central Government of China to demonstrate its commitment to a fair and free press.

February 28, 2012

Hu Jintao
People's Republic of China
General Secretary of the Communist Party of China

Wen Jiaobo
People's Republic of China

Zhu Xiaodan
Governor of Guangdong Province
People's Republic of China

Dear President Hu, Premier Wen and Governor Zhu,

Re: Free reporting of elections in Wukan village

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) writes to you ahead of elections in Wukan village in Lufeng City, in China's southern Guangdong Province, on March 4.

We respectfully urge the Central Government of China to demonstrate its commitment to a fair and free press, as enshrined in the Chinese Constitution and Reporting Regulations for non-Mainland media personnel.

Since the late 1980s, the Central Government has been promoting direct elections of village committees. On February 1 and 11, more than 8,000 Wukan villagers voted for 11 candidates to form a panel to organise and oversee elections for a new village committee on March 1. Voters will also select 107 village representatives and seven group leaders.

During the two elections in February, the IFJ received complaints from a number of journalists - including those from foreign countries, mainland China and Hong Kong - that they had been treated unfairly when attempting to cover the story. Journalists reported being barred from entering or staying in the village by official personnel. Some media outlets were allowed to report from Wukan, notably those representing media directly controlled by the government. With the help of sympathetic villagers, other journalists were ultimately able to enter the village.

The IFJ seeks to remind you that under Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution, Article 17 of the Regulations on Reporting Activities in China by Foreign Journalists, and Article 4 of the Regulations on Reporting Activities in Mainland by Hong Kong and Macau journalists, all journalists have the right to be treated fairly when fulfilling their duties as reporters. These laws and regulations were created and are upheld by the Government of China.

Although we challenge many of the restrictions imposed by the regulations, as violating the principles of press freedom, we understand that journalists have agreed to these compromises. Despite these concessions, journalists working in China are still unable to exercise their right to report freely.

On December 16, 2011, the Minister of the State Council Information Office of China, Wang Chen, stated that, "the State Council Information Office will continue to brief the world on China's events and affairs, consolidate the mutual exchange of information and cooperation with media outlets and reporters with the aim of enhancing the understanding on China's basic reality, values, path of development and its domestic and foreign policies and in turn present a true reflection of China to the international community, a China that is open and adhering to the path of peaceful development."

The IFJ believes that all levels of China's government have a duty to adhere to this standard.

Fairness and transparency are integral to good governance, and the media have an important role to play in this process by reporting on government policy and actions. If the Central Government of China is determined to present a true reflection of China to the international community, there should be no reason to impede or censor the work of journalists.

The IFJ urges President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Governor Zhu to investigate the case of interference with journalists reporting on the elections in Wukan, and ensure that no similar interference interrupts the work of Mainland, Hong Kong and Overseas media reporting on the upcoming election in Wukan village on March 4, 2012.

Yours respectfully,

International Federation of Journalists (Asia-Pacific)

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