July 21, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

New regulations pose threat to liberal press

Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the impact on press freedom of new regulations that the Propaganda Department has imposed on China’s provincial and metropolitan news media. “China has no press law, but the accumulation of draconian regulations has gradually created a legislative straitjacket for the media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “These new rules add to the laws on state secrets and subversion that have been used by the authorities many times to punish journalists.” The press freedom organisation added: “We urge Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to have these new Propaganda Department directives cancelled or else they will be a permanent threat hanging over the liberal press and investigative journalists.” Chinese journalists told Reporters Without Borders that under the latest restrictions imposed by the Propaganda Department: 1. Newspapers must stop exchanging articles with news media in other provinces. 2. Media based in metropolitan areas (Dushi Bao) are forbidden to do their own reporting on national or international stories or modify the coverage of these stories that the official media provide. The Propaganda Department offices in four southern provinces and Beijing have called the editors of the main liberal news media directly to order. The international news sections of local newspapers in Hunan province have been carrying only the official news agency Xinhua’s dispatches since the start of the month. Several editors in Beijing, Guangdong and Shandong confirmed that they were going to stop exchanging articles with newspapers in other provinces. According to the Hong Kong-based daily Ming Pao, the new regulations have been in place since 1 July 2010. It said officials are also insisting on an end to negative reporting about the police and judicial authorities. The new directives may have been prompted in part by the joint editorial published by 13 newspapers in March that led to Economic Observer deputy editor Zhang Hong’s dismissal (,36621.html). The Communist Party Central Committee has since 2004 forbidden the media to practice yidi jiandu (inter-regional reporting). But the liberal press, especially newspapers in the southern provinces, continue to carry reports about sensitive issues in other regions. An expert on Chinese media said “the 2004 order from party leaders complicated the work of investigative journalists.” A Beijing-based investigative reporter told Reporters Without Borders that, if applied rigorously, the new regulations would “kill all reports that are the least bit negative in the provincial newspapers.” He added: “Even if you doubt that the authorities will enforce these regulations to the letter, they will be able to use them to punish individual media. That puts the local newspapers in a position of weakness. Everything is being done to ensure that no scandals appear in newspapers in neighbouring regions.” The leading regional newspapers such as Guangdong’s Nanfang Dushi Bao have few correspondents in other Chinese provinces and depend on exchanging news reports with other local media. “It is less risky to publish a sensitive story about an official in a neighbouring province than about those in our own province,” a Shanghai-based journalist said. Around ten Chinese media, including the business magazines China Economic Times and Business Watch, were recently sanctioned for reports they had published (,37467.html). In response to an increase in social unrest, the central government has embarked on new phase of news control. Internet censorship has been stepped up at the behest of Wang Chen, the head of the government’s Information Office (,3797...), while the official media, including the news agency Xinhua, have been told to increase their international presence into order to get the “Chinese version” across.