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China 7 November 2007

Call for release of 33 imprisoned journalists as China marks "Journalists Day"

On the eve of “Journalists’ Day,” which China is celebrating tomorrow, Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to stop violating journalists’ rights on a massive scale. The record leaves no room for doubt - 33 journalists are currently detained, several dozen have been injured this year and one has been killed.

To illustrate the scope of the government’s editorial control, the press freedom organisation is publishing a message which the Publicity Department sent to the leading Chinese media before last month’s congress of the Communist Party of China. Obtained from a Beijing news organisation, this message clearly shows how the Publicity Department (formerly called, less discreetly, the Propaganda Department) forces journalists to censor many news items and to censor themselves.

The message is a clear call to order. It explains that when a note entitled “Reporting ban” is issued, the media are strictly forbidden to publish any report on the subject. Similarly, when a note is sent to news media saying, “Do not send reporter,” it means they are forbidden to cover the story themselves and must limit themselves to using the dispatches of the government news agency Xinhua.

Glossary used for propaganda requirements

So that the Publicity Department’s directives are applied better, that news staff respect the rules of discipline established for news reports, and that news reports are shared as much as possible, here is the specific glossary. We hope it will enable news organisations to increase their understanding of directives and put them into practice.

1 - “Reporting ban” means ban on writing a report on the subject.

2 - “Do not send reporter” means permission to publish the Xinhua news agency’s standard article or to reproduce the report or column published by a local news media.

3 - “Ban on criticising” means no comment on the subject, including comment by means of a cartoon.

4 - “No exaggeration” means objective report, no editorializing or front page photo.

5 - “Absolutely no exaggeration” means the same.

6 - “No opportunism” means no front-page analysis, a story of less than a full page, and a ban on doing a series of reports.

7 - “Absolutely no opportunism” means no front-page analysis, a story of less than a full page, no big headlines and no series of reports.

8 - “No reporting without permission” means possibility of publishing the Xinhua news agency standard article or sending a request to the Publicity Department with the proposed article’s angle and word count.

9 - “No reporting for the time being” means no reporting.

10 - “No participation” means no reporting.

In the light of the massive censorship imposed by the Publicity Department in the run-up to the party congress, Reporters Without Borders is supporting the “Declaration against the Propaganda Department” that university academic Jiao Guobiao wrote in 2004. Jiao said in his essay that “censorship by the Community Party of China is blocking the civilised development of Chinese society” and that the Propaganda Department is “the bastion of the most reactionary forces and allows them to abuse their authority.”

Three days ahead of Journalists’ Day this year, the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) issued a report recognising that Chinese journalists face many problems in the course of their work. It said some journalists were subject to pressure from within the private sector to suppress certain stories. Others were the victims of physical violence.

But no mention was made of cases such as that of Pang Jiaoming of China Economic Times, who was punished by the authorities in July for writing a story about the poor quality of the material used to build the rails for the first high-speed train link between Wuhan and Guangzhou.

The GAPP report also criticised journalists who take money to write publicity pieces for companies, and those who use their position to blackmail people. It also referred to the problem of undeclared journalists and defended the obligatory press card, but it took no serious account of the situation of freelance journalists. This is because there is a single journalists union, which is affiliated to the Communist Party.

Reporters Without Borders would also like to mention the case of Lan Chengzhang, a journalist who was beaten to death on 10 January by thugs in the pay of an illegal mine owner in the northern province of Shanxi. Lan worked for China Trade News but as he was working on a trial basis, the authorities refused to regard him as a journalist. He did not yet have a press card and was not authorised to go out and do his own stories.

For this reason, Chinese officials and the media accused him being a “false journalist” who was trying to blackmail people - a charge often used to discredit investigative journalists who dig up embarrassing facts. His murderers did, however, get prison sentences.

The GAPP report also said that “reports must be true, accurate, objective and fair, and must not oppose the interests of the state or infringe on citizens’ rights.” But at no moment did the GAPP mention the problems of censorship which the Chinese media face.

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