Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has denounced the ban on the distribution of the penultimate issue of the British magazine The Economist by the Beijing authorities. The organisation for the defence of press freedom asked in a letter the minister for foreign affairs, Tang Jiaxuan, on a visit to Paris, to personally ensure that that issue of The Economist be available at newsstands. ’While you are in France to promote Shanghai’s candidature to organise the universal exhibition of 2010, your government is once again depriving certain Chinese people of the right to inform themselves freely of the situation in the country. These acts of censorship seriously compromise the improvement of China’s image abroad’, declared Robert Ménard, General Secretary of the organisation.
According to information obtained by the organisation, the Chinese authorities banned on 20 June the distribution of the 15 June issue of The Economist.
That issue, featuring an editorial entitled ’Set China’s politics free’ included a special dossier on the country signed by the magazine’s correspondent in Beijing, James Miles. This investigative journalism, which insisted on the need for political reforms to achieve the country’s growth objectives, made reference to sensitive topics such as the spiritual movement Falungong, the pro-democratic movements of 1989 or the new Chinese financial markets. According to James Miles, quoted by the daily South China Morning Post, while articles on China are frequently removed from copies of The Economist before they appear at newsstands, it is ’the first time an entire edition’ has been banned from distribution. Pete Bakker, manager of the magazine distribution department for the Asia-Pacific zone, declared that the magazine had anticipated this ban by checking with the national distribution company that the issue really would be distributed. This company told them five days later that the issue would not be ’legal’. The thousand copies reserved for international hotels were not delivered, but subscribers nevertheless received the issue.