China to intensify regulations for reporters

New York, February 13, 2009–China’s decision to establish a list of reporters who break reporting rules and prevent them from continuing to report or edit news is a cause for concern, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The decision to create a blacklist was reported in an article on the Web site of the official China Press and Publishing Journal

The Journal‘s report, titled “Strengthen oversight and service for journalists to protect their rights and interests,” said that the General Administration of Press and Publication, the agency that controls the country’s media, will “establish a database of media professionals with a bad record.” The rules will apply to Chinese journalists. Foreign journalists are under the purview of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The article said the database is part of a larger plan to tighten press credentials and set professional standards for China’s reporters. New controls, including press identification cards, will be put into effect starting on February 25 and be in place by June 2009.

“We are alarmed by any government that attempts to decide who is a ‘good’ journalist and who is a ‘bad’ journalist,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

“Media in post-Olympics China have come under more restrictions since the Games ended in August 2008. We hope the government does not use the legitimate desire to improve the integrity of media in China to continue its crackdown on reporting that is critical of the government,” Dietz said.

The new regulations came to light after an announcement on February 6 that Hong Kong and Macau journalists are required to apply for a press pass from the central government and get interviewees’ consent before every reporting trip to the mainland–two restrictions that had been eased for reporters as part of the government’s efforts to meet its pledges for a free media for the Beijing Olympics. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs made the less restrictive rules permanent in October 2008. CPJ expressed its skepticism about the ruling at that time.

Blacklisting journalists has a long history in China. Veteran Chinese journalist Jiang Weiping told CPJ in an interview in Toronto on Monday that he had tried working as a journalist after his release from prison in 2006. He served five years in jail on vague anti-state charges after reporting on a corruption scandal in Liaoning province for a Hong Kong-based newspaper. Jiang said he had succeeded in being hired and given a journalist’s permit by the Zhuhai bureau of Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao–a permit that was revoked as soon as a background check revealed his criminal record.

Corrupt reporters are a serious problem in China’s rapidly expanding media universe, and have at times undermined the public’s trust in journalists. In August 2007, a television producer was jailed for one year after fabricating a story about steamed buns filled with cardboard. And in January 2007, a young reporter was beaten to death at an illegal coal mine–owners said he had tired to extort money from them. But legitimate journalists who report critically on the government are often charged with corruption, too.

The new rules do not apply to foreign journalists, but in November 2007, CPJ warned that the government’s crackdown on so-called “fake” foreign journalists in advance of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a pretext to block critical reporters from covering the Games. While more than 20,000 foreign journalists were allowed to cover the Games, many others were never issued journalists visas to attend.