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IFJ releases report on media freedoms in greater China

(IFJ/IFEX) - 3 May 2012 - May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, a day which reminds the world of people's rights to hold opinions, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas and thoughts as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The media has an important role in this regard, as they hold a duty to disseminate information of great public concern to society.

However, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) continues to receive many complaints from media all over greater China — Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Mainland China — that they have been subject to various kinds of pressure which impede the fulfilling of this duty.

Mainland China

Many Mainland Chinese journalists complain that the present working environment for journalists is much worse than during last year's crackdown following calls for a 'Chinese Jasmine Revolution'.

2012 has been witness to tightening of restriction on China's traditional and online media. China's microblogs have implemented real-name registration, which deters people's willingness to freely express their opinion. In addition, many Mainland Chinese websites have been forced to close.

According to a report in British newspaper The Guardian, at least six people, including finance journalist Li Delin, were detained by police for alleged dissemination of rumours of a coup on April 1. During the same period, two popular microblog service companies, Sina and Tencent had their comment functions suspended for three days. The accounts of four bloggers — Yang Haipeng, Zhang Ming, He Bing and Shen Yafei (account name Shi Feike) — were also shut down by Sina without any notification or explanation. Posts addressing issues of great public concern also continue to be frequently deleted from microblogs.

For traditional media, the system of censorship remains unchanged. Newspapers report that they continuously receive various restrictive orders from government authorities, identifying which issues cannot be reported or which editorial perspective must be used.

In 2012 so far, restrictive orders have been issued by China's Central Propaganda Department advising media organisations not to publish reports or commentary on the election of Hong Kong's Chief Executive, the series of self-immolation of Tibetan monks in Sichuan, the illegal house arrest of blind activist Chen Guangcheng and his wife Yuan Waijing, and Chen's subsequent escape, and the unfolding political scandal of Bo Xilai, former Party Secretary of Chongqing City. Two journalists, Chu Zhaoxin and Wang Sijing, were reportedly interrogated by police because Chu had covered the Bo Xilai scandal. Orders have also been received regulating the number of articles published on certain topics or incidents.

The threat of physical harm or intimidation continues to be a presence in the day-to-day work of journalists in Mainland China.

Tao Xingying of Xinmin Evening Post and Shen Kunyu of Oriental Sports Daily were physically assaulted by Guo Jun, the Secretary of the Dalian Football Club in Dalian City, in China's north-east Liaoning province, on April 21. Tao's was choked and kicked while being pushed to the ground by Guo. Although Guo apologised a few days later and China's General Administration of Sport affirmed that journalists should be protected from such attacks when they are exercising their duties, similar violent and humiliating incidents continue to pose a challenge to the work of journalists in China.

Journalists also continue to live under threat of punishment for exercising their duties. Luo Xiaoming, Yang Shengdong and Shu Gangbin, senior managers of Biancheng Evening News, were suspended from their duties by the propaganda department of Huaihua, a prefecture-level city of Hunan Province in south central China, after the paper published the results of a survey in which residents expressed dissatisfaction with local officials.

Conditions for foreign journalists working in China are also becoming more difficult. The movements of foreign journalists are quite limited, particularly within Tibet, Tibetan-populated areas in Sichuan and Xinjiang, and even some areas that do not require special entry permits. The challenges of securing visas continues to frustrate the work of foreign journalists in China, with the threat of delays or rejections being used to intimidate and threaten journalists perceived as reporting negatively.

China's general public also continues to be restricted from enjoying its right to freedom of expression. A number of protestors, including activist Wu Guanhuang, were either detained or charged by police while taking pictures in a public area in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province in April 2012. Chinese writer Yang Weidong and Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser were also prevented from leaving China by Beijing's police.

Hong Kong

It is a well-accepted idea that freedom of expression is one of the pillars of individual rights. It is therefore in the interests of all that societies should take action to ensure the existence of a free, pluralistic and independent media. However, these rights are undermined in Hong Kong by the exercising of self-censorship by the media.

During the 2012 election campaign for the new Chief Executive of Hong Kong, reports suggested that Hao Tiechuan, the Director of the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong - Mainland Central Government's formal representative in the territory - had interfered with the reporting of the elections. The owner of the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Richard Li Rzar-Kai, was allegedly approached by Hao, who left a message to chastise the newspaper for its perceived negative coverage of the Chinese Liaison Office and Leung Chun-Ying, the new Chief Executive. Although Li has denied of receiving such calls, senior management of other media outlets have complained that they were pressured to receive calls or dine with Hao when sensitive news related to him or Central Authority arose.

Another newspaper, Sing Pao, altered an article by a well-known commentator, Johnny YS Lau, from refusing to support any of the Chief Executive candidates to endorsing one of the candidates. Lau's contract was subsequently terminated on April 12, without explanation after he wrote an article paying tribute to the late renowned dissident and astro-physicist Feng Lizhi on April 9, 2012. Sing Pao's website was blocked for Mainland Chinese readers on April 9, and it is alleged that an order was given that Lau's contract be terminated shortly afterwards. The newspaper has continued to self-censor, with a column about blind activist Chen Guangcheng removed from its official website on April 30.

In addition to media exercising self-censorship, the ability of Hong Kong's media to cover news is also limited by government departments. The Police and Fire Departments of Hong Kong have been tightly controlling the dissemination of information to the media since the introduction of changes to their communication systems. The Police Department have even begun to increase their control over the movement of the media by establishing 'media zones' outside of the Chinese Liaison Office, the official representative body of the Central Authority of China, in Hong Kong. On numerous occasions, photographers have been prevented from taking photos outside of this area and during demonstrations. Poon Ching-Ki, a photographer for the Hong Kong Economic Times, was pushed and detained by a policeman while taking photos of a public protest on during the Chief Executive Election debate on March 19, 2012

Freedom of expression also continues to be tightly controlled. Some of Hong Kong's District Council legislators and firefighters have reported that they have been prevented from hanging posters critical of government policy or advocating for changes to working conditions outside their housing estates and fire stations. Apparently, such posters were tolerated prior to the recent elections of the new Chief Executive.

Macau

In Macau, the practice of media self-censorship has drawn an outcry from both the public and media personnel.

The Associação dos Jornalistas de Macau issued an open letter on April 26, and encouraged journalists to wear black T-shirts to work on May 1 to lament the worsening state of press freedom in Macau.

In the open letter, the journalists complained of the deletion or alteration of articles that provided dissenting opinions from official government views. Other complaints included pressure to under-report the public consultations on political reform, the forcing of independent journalists from the workplace and the restriction of journalists' movement by police. Ava Chan, newly resigned from Macau's public broadcaster, Teledifusão de Macau S.A., has commented that self-censorship was already common practice in Macau's media industry but lately the situation has worsened. Many sensitive stories on topics such as political reform are refused publication by senior staff, or assigned to inexperienced graduates or interns. Felix Wong Chi-Keung, a photographer for the South China Morning Post, was refused entry to Macao on May 1, for the third time since 2009, with the excuse that he was a risk to social stability. Macau's reducing press freedoms have also drawn attention from other media association such as the Macau Media Club.

For Macau's general public the rights to freedom of expression were also limited. For example, an activist was hand-cuffed and detained by police when he refused to put on a coat to obscure his T-shirt, which called for redress for the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, during a public consultation session conducted by the local government.

Taiwan

For the Media in Taiwan, one the greatest challenges continues to be the threat of criminal defamation charges. Since Lin Chau-yi, former Chairperson of the Taiwan Journalists Association and a reporter for independent news website Newtalk, and Su Jeng-ping, the website's administrator, were sued for criminal defamation by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hsieh Guo-liang in relation to an article they published on September 2, 2011, many media personnel, media academics and civil society activists have expressed their concern that Taiwan's out-dated criminal defamation laws jeopardise press freedom. However, so far the Government of Taiwan has not given merit to their concerns.

The increased monopolization of media ownership is another threat to media diversity in Taiwan. Want Want China Broadband, a subsidiary of the Want Want Group, already owns several newspapers, magazines and terrestrial and satellite television stations in Taiwan. It is now seeking permission from Taiwan's National Communications Commission to purchase an additional 11 cable television companies for TWD 76 billion (approximately USD 2.6 billion). This would allow the company to secure 23 per cent of Taiwan's market of cable subscribers. The purchase would enable the company to control one-third of Taiwan's media market.

The pursuit of revenue at the expense of independence has also become a feature of the Taiwanese media sector. Increasingly, media rely upon paid advertorials for their content, rather than maintaining an independent editorial position.

Conclusion

World Press Freedom Day, May 3, is a date to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom — to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

In the spirit of World Press Freedom Day, the IFJ urges China's President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, President of the Republic of China Ma Ying-jeou, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Donald Tsang Yam-Kuen and Chief Executive–Elect Leung Chun-ying, and Chief Executive of Macau Fernando Chui Sai-On to do their utmost to ensure all levels of government respect the right of the media rights to do their job without fear of intimidation or interference. We call on them to respect the rights of all citizens to the freedom of expression enshrined in their constitutions and domestic laws.

The IFJ also calls on all media personnel to remain strong in the defence of press freedom. All media are reminded of their duty to serve the interests of society as a whole, rather than merely government authorities or commercial sectors.

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