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Journalist removed for voicing food safety fears

(IFJ/IFEX) - 23 April 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urges China's national broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), to explain the apparent disappearance of one of its journalists in April 2012.

The IFJ has learned that Zhao Pu, 40, a host of CCTV's news bulletin program, was suspended from his position after forwarding a message using his Weibo microblog account which advised parents in China not to feed their children unsafe food products on 9 April.

According to various Mainland Chinese media reports, the message told parents not to give their children frozen yoghurt or jelly. Zhao did not provide further reasons for forwarding the warning except to state that "the inside story is awful".

However, many believe that Zhao's comments were related to the recent food safety scandal, in which 53 people have been arrested, and 10 industrial gelatin and capsule factories closed, on suspicion they were manufacturing drug capsules with potentially toxic industrial gelatin.

Subsequent media reports alleged that a dairy company, Beijing Sanyuan Food Company, has used this gelatin in its food products, but the company has denied the accusation.

Zhao's message was deleted the next day, and from then he has been absent from his regular hosting position.

Online reports speculate that Zhao has been suspended from his position with CCTV, as his comments violated CCTV's internal policies. CCTV has so far refused to respond to the accusation. Zhao himself has also yet to comment on the report, although in a subsequent post on Weibo he quoted a Chinese poem in which the author proclaims himself innocent of causing harm to others.

Zhao is the first journalist known to be punished for commenting on the contaminated drug capsule scandal.

"Food safety is an issue of great public concern, and one on which the media has a duty to report" IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"It is alarming that Zhao would be punished for comments made in his personal capacity that seek to alert the community to a serious public health concern. CCTV must explain why he has been punished."

The IFJ urges the CCTV to explained Zhao's disappearance, and provide a full explanation of which internal regulations Zhao is alleged to have breached, if any.

We also call on the All Chinese Journalists Association to investigate this case, and assess whether CCTV's punishment of Zhao for statements made in his own personal communications was lawful.
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