Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today voiced its concern at a Chinese government threat to ban the Chinese-language versions of three leading US magazines, saying it was designed to prevent the international news media from offering independent news to Chinese readers. The organisation also drew the World Trade Organisation’s attention to the threat, made on 28 March by a government official who said the three publications did not have proper licences.
"Like other countries, China refuses to open up the news media sector for political reasons, although it has joined the World Trade Organisation," Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to Yu Youxian, director of the State Press and Publication Administration (SPPA), the government department that issued the threat. "This is a serious violation of the free flow of information," said the letter, which was copied to World Trade Organisation director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi.
The three US magazines are Newsweek, Forbes and Harvard Business Review, which are trying to penetrate the Chinese print media market by launching Chinese-language versions. But to do so, they are required to obtain the SPPA’s prior approval and conform to China’s very strict laws on content.
The official English-language China Daily reported that none of the three magazines has requested the SPPA’s approval, which means their distribution in China is illegal. "We have not approved any of these three American periodicals for publication in the Chinese mainland on their own or through copyright co-operation with a domestic publishing house," Wang Huapeng, a senior SPPA official, told China Daily. Report in the Hong Kong and Taiwanese press that the SPPA had granted licenses for all three publications were incorrect, the newspaper said.
Harvard Business Review, which has already published five Chinese-language issues, is alleged to have broken Chinese law by using a licence number assigned to a Chinese publishing house. Forbes magazine reportedly reached an arrangement in November with a Hong Kong-based publishing house whereby it would enter the Chinese market, but again without the SPPA’s agreement. Newsweek had announced the launch in April of a version in Mandarin called Newsweek Select, dedicated entirely to China and with a print run of 80,000.
The SPPA was quoted as saying that the three magazines could face fines, confiscation or even criminal penalties.