Chinese media face fines for disaster reporting

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Tuesday, July 4, 2006

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The Chinese Government has announced plans to impose fines of over US$12,000 on media outlets if they report domestic disasters without permission.

Two years in the planning, the law is expected to be in force by the end of the year and would affect reporting of natural and industrial disasters or anything that could “jeopardize the handling of emergencies,” or threaten social order.

In a country which is infamous for its censorship there’s been outcry from press freedom campaign groups, but the Chinese government insist that the laws are primarily to give local governments more control in releasing information to the public. A government spokesperson said: "Journalists and media organisations have worked very hard to contribute to covering emergencies but I must say that some individual journalists have filed wrong reports or even fabricated facts."

Chinese journalists on the mainland Hong Kong have criticised the law, calling it a “step backward.” The Xin Kuaibao (New Express) said it was concerned that local government would control information saying “there is no way of verifying that the information in the hands of the government is the truest and most accurate.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) meanwhile has expressed its concern. "The media have an important and potentially life-saving role in reporting health crises, natural disasters and other incidents of public concern that officials often have an interest in concealing," CPJ director Ann Cooper said last week.

The proposed law is a worry for some in light of the Chinese government’s handling of previous disasters that were widely criticised. In 2004 several officials resigned for their handling of the SARS outbreak, after public pressure sparked by domestic media.

According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, China imprisons more journalists than any other country, including two from the Southern Metropolis News for their reportage of the SARS crisis.

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