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China 29 September 2008

Financial weekly closed for three months for reporting on a public bank

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a three-month ban slapped on financial weekly China Business Post, accused of having broken the law in an article on the Agricultural Bank of China.

Elsewhere, the Propaganda Department is still keeping tight control over news linked to the toxic milk scandal. An investigative journalist has been gagged from reporting on the issue since July to avoid embarrassment during the Olympic Games.

"While there is growing concern about the international banking crisis and the toxic milk scandal, it is appalling for local and national officials to try to censor media who are only trying to carry out their job of informing the public."

"We call for the lifting of the temporary ban on the China Business Post and for the end to censorship of the milk scandal. Without these steps, the credibility of government promises of transparency will again be tainted", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

The China Business Post, which sells 400,000 copies weekly, was suspended for three months on 8 September by the press and publications bureau of Inner Mongolia in northern china, where it is licensed.

Following negotiations, the newspaper was able to appear as usual on 11 September, but the 18 September issue was banned. This sanction followed complaints from leading officials in Hunan, southern China and from the Agricultural bank of China. The weekly in July accused the Changde, Hunan office of the public bank of poor management of assets.

According to the authorities, the Beijing-based weekly violated a regulation that bans the media from publishing an investigation into an event in a province other than that in which it is licensed. The authorities also considered that the China Business Post should have questioned the Agricultural Bank of China before carrying the article. Officials in Inner Mongolia justified their decision by citing other investigations by the financial paper which reportedly violated the same rules.

Press magnate, Bruno Wu, owner of the title through the Sun Media group, told the Financial Times, that there had been an "abuse of administrative power". He told the paper’s staff on 24 September that he had decided to suspend publication of the weekly indefinitely to protest against the decision. A source at the paper also told Reporters Without Borders that an appeal had been lodged with the competent authorities.

At the same time, the Propaganda Department has strengthened its control over the information available in the media and online about the contaminated milk which has caused at least four deaths and made thousands of other Chinese children ill.

Several Chinese journalists have said that it is becoming more and more obvious that the authorities in July prevented an investigation into the toxic milk coming out so as not to tarnish China’s image before the Olympics.

He Feng, a journalist on the weekly Nanfang Zhoumo, was censored in July when he had obtained worrying information about the public health effects of the milk produced by the Sanlu company. Again, on 13 September, an article by He Feng on the responsibilities of milk companies was pulled by the weekly’s management.

A Propaganda Department circular of 12 September warned that it was in the interests of media and websites to limit publication of articles or commentary on the milk products scandal.

Finally, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders revealed that economist, Qi Yanchen, who had already been imprisoned from 1999 to 2003, had been summoned by police after he criticised the authorities’ management of the scandal in an interview with Radio Free Asia.

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