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China 11 September 2006

New regulations reinforce Xinhua’s control over foreign news agencies

Many foreign governments such as the United States and Germany, and the European Union through the current holder of its presidency, Finland, have voiced concern about new regulations giving China’s official news agency, Xinhua, a monopoly of the distribution of news, photos and graphics in China.

In an attempt to quell fears, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said “the Chinese government will guarantee the freedom and rights of foreign news media and foreign financial news agencies established in China.”

Xinhua has stressed that it is not seeking “any financial gain.” Its vice-president invoked the right of developing countries to create a fairer financial news market and to combat the “information gap” vis-à-vis the leading developed nations.

Liu Binjie, the deputy minister of the General Administration of Press and Publication, said the new regulations were just an extension of supervisory powers approved in 1996 and for which his ministry has been responsible for some time.

Xinhua also quoted academic Qin Zhaode of Fudan University in Shanghai as saying: “In order to safeguard China’s rights and interests, it is very normal that the government use these methods, clearly authorising Xinhua with these relevant functions.”


Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today at the government-run news agency Xinhua’s announcement, without any prior consultation, of new regulations reinforcing its commercial and editorial control over the distribution of foreign news agency content within China. The organisation called for a joint reaction from the US, European and Japanese governments to this new attempt to restrict the free flow of information.

“We are worried about the scope of these regulations, which could have a serious impact on the work of foreign news agencies operating in China,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is outrageous that Xinhua, the Communist Party mouthpiece, should claim full powers over news agencies. It also poses a threat to news agency journalists, who play a key role in the circulation of news in China. Xinhua is establishing itself as a predator of both free enterprise and freedom of information.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “The Chinese government did everything possible to keep politics out of business negotiations during the EU-China summit that just took place. But now it is doing the exact opposite by blithely mixing business and political control. The status of foreign news agencies is a complete violation of China’s commitments to the World Trade Organisation.”

The regulations announced yesterday, entitled “Measures for administering the dissemination of news and information in China by foreign news agencies,” concern not only mainland China but also Hong Kong and Macao and, in theory, Taiwan. They abolish a special dispensation dating back to 1996 that allowed business information agencies including Reuters to sell news to the Chinese media. Part of Xinhua’s motive seems to be muscle in on a lucrative business that has eluded it until now.

Consisting of 22 articles, the new regulations confirm Xinhua’s strict monopoly of the distribution of news, photos and computer images to the Chinese media. Without any form of consultation, the foreign news agencies have been placed under the tutelage of Xinhua, which has assumed the right to grant or withhold operating licences. This contradicts foreign ministry regulations that give the ministry the power to accredit foreign news media and journalists.

Posted on Xinhua’s website, the regulations ban the dissemination of news that is contrary to the Chinese constitution or any Chinese law, that endangers national unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity, national security or China’s reputation and interests, that violates Chinese policy on religions, or that promotes sects and superstition. News agencies are told they must not incite hate or discrimination between ethnic groups or hurt their feelings. They are also banned from threatening China’s social and economic order or cultural traditions, or from disseminating obscenities or defamation. After issuing a warning, Xinhua will be able to demand a correction, block the circulation of a report, or suspend the offending media’s licence.

The Chinese media are forbidden to use foreign news agency dispatches to cover a news story. But the news agencies sell photos through Xinhua, especially international news photos. And the Chinese media can also buy business news and information from the specialised agencies. The agencies that will be most affected are Reuters, Bloomberg, DowJones and Kyodo, all of which sell business news to the Chinese media.

A Beijing-based journalist who did not want to be named told Reporters Without Borders the foreign news agencies should “unite to combat these unfair and retrograde regulations.” Another foreign news agency correspondent said Xinhua was trying “claim powers it does not have.”

In September 2005, Reporters Without Borders published a report entitled “Xinhua: the world’s biggest propaganda agency,” which described the agency’s internal functioning and how it played a key role in controlling the Chinese media.

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