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China 14 April 2006

WTO members urged to oppose a new wave of Chinese media restrictions

Reporters Without Borders today called on World Trade Organisation (WTO) member states to oppose a series of restrictive measures just adopted by the Chinese government which are a complete violation of WTO principles and will jeopardise the liberalisation and development of the Chinese media. China joined the WTO in 2001.

"The credibility of China’s integration into the WTO requires a change in its policies towards the media," Reporters Without Borders said. "We call on member countries, especially the United States, which President Hu Jintao is visiting this month, to raise this crucial issue within the WTO."

The press freedom organisation added: "The media sector should be included in the next session of Doha round negotiations. This reinforcement of protectionism by China is clearly aimed at increasing control of media content and is a new violation of press freedom."

The official news agency Xinhua confirmed yesterday that the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) is going to step up its controls over "illegal foreign publications" and freeze the granting of publishing licences to joint ventures in the media sector. According to the authorities, "non-accredited journalists" have started up news media that are disrupting the market and having a "negative impact on the population."

Alluding to such publications as China Art Circle in Hebei province and China News in Kiangsu province, the GAPP said several newspaper and magazines have been closed down this year for "illegal activities." The GAPP branch in Heilongjiang also reportedly closed the offices of the Hong Kong-registered newspaper China Business on 16 March. According to Xinhua, the people who ran these illegal publications and a false press card distribution ring will be prosecuted. The authorities have not said if journalists have been arrested.

These measures have served to confirm the government’s policy of no longer granting licences to magazines financed by foreign press groups. Previously, foreign media companies that wanted to get into the Chinese market could do so by joining up with local companies. Scientific and technological publications are not affected by the new rules.

Some magazines that are already publishing a Chinese version such as Elle, Newsweek and FHM should not be affected by the new rules either. But the Shanghai-based company that was bringing out a Chinese version of the music magazine Rolling Stone was ordered to cease its activities in March. The GAPP’s new policy aims both to boost the foreign sales of Chinese magazines and to reduce the influx of foreign publications, reflecting a concern about their impact on the Chinese public.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) meanwhile ordered Chinese TV stations on 11 April not to use the footage offered by international news agencies, accusing them of "corrupting public opinion." The Chinese TV stations are to use only images produced or approved by authorised Chinese agencies, especially the CCTV. The SARFT went on to accuse "certain international news agencies of selling images with clearly political intentions" and called for more "political discipline."

The regulations date back to 2002 but had been adhered to less and less by TV stations. Three Shanghai TV stations, for example, had been using AP and Reuters footage in recent years. The regulations run counter to China’s pledges to the WTO (in November 2001 documents) to open its market in broadcasting services.

The SARFT also announced that local authorities would be required to verify the content of TV series. Scripts will have to be approved every month to prevent "errors" of a political and historical nature.

This new regulation follows a ban on a programme called "Supergirl" on Hunan provincial television, which was inspired by "Star Academy" and which allowed viewers to vote for the candidate of their choice. China Daily said it illustrated "the perversions of an unprepared democracy."

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