China: Government restricts foreign news distribution

New York, September 11, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by China’s announcement Sunday that the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency would oversee the distribution of foreign news and information within China, and would censor all news stories, photographs and other information deemed offensive under several broad categories.

“It is greatly distressing that less than two years before the start of the Olympic Games in Beijing, the government is attempting to tighten its financial and political control over the flow of information in China,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “These new regulations on the distribution of foreign news are a step backward.”

The sweeping regulations are likely to affect financial news reporting and economic information providers that sell services directly to clients inside China, according to international news reports. The new rules come amid China’s heightened effort to control foreign and local press coverage through administrative measures and the civil and criminal prosecution of journalists.

Xinhua announced that the new regulations, called Measures for Administering the Release of News and Information in China by Foreign News Agencies, would take effect immediately. Under these measures, Xinhua News Agency says it would retain the right to select the news distributed within China, and would delete any materials found to:

  • Violate the basic principles enshrined in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China;
  • Undermine China’s national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity;
  • Endanger China’s national security, reputation and interests;
  • Violate China’s religious policies or preach evil cults or superstition;
  • Incite hatred and discrimination among ethnic groups, undermine their unity, infringe upon their customs and habits, or hurt their feelings;
  • Spread false information, disrupt China’s economic and social order, or undermine China’s social stability;
  • Propagate obscenity and violence, or to abet crimes;
  • Humiliate or slander another person, or infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of another person;
  • Undermine social ethics of the fine cultural traditions of the Chinese nation;
  • Include other content banned by Chinese laws and administrative regulations.

Any foreign news agency found to be violating these rules could be suspended or its rights to provide news within China cancelled, Xinhua said on its English-language Web site. The measures will also affect the distribution on the mainland of information released by news agencies in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

The re-publication of foreign news is already restricted through censorship agencies that control domestic media. But the new rules rescind a 1996 agreement allowing limited direct distribution of financial news and information to customers in China.

“Xinhua’s new rules will have no effect on the way we cover and provide the news globally,” said Clayton Haswell, director for Asia and the Pacific for The Associated Press, a news agency likely to be affected by the new rules, in a statement released to CPJ. “But this raises serious concerns for AP regarding fair trade and the free flow of information within China.”

A Reuters spokeswoman said that the agency was examining the new regulations.

“We are studying these rules closely to see how they differ from the current guidelines and will be discussing the details of the new regulations with Xinhua,” said Samantha Topping.

Bloomberg News declined comment.

Journalists in China have told CPJ that the government is pursuing the most intense attack on the press since the aftermath of the crackdown on protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989. More than 30 journalists are currently jailed in China, including foreign news agency employees Zhao Yan of The New York Times, and Ching Cheong of The Straits Times of Singapore.