China’s censors have issued strict new rules to journalists in state-run media, warning that those who report information the government deems “inaccurate” could lose their press cards or face jail.
But analysts said on Friday that the rules could in fact be aimed at ordinary Chinese who use the Internet to publish news that official media are forbidden to report.
China’s print media monitor, the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), published the rules on its website on Friday, saying the new regulations aim to boost the credibility of Chinese news organizations.
With immediate effect, reporters and news organizations are banned from reporting any online information if it has not been independently verified.
“The reputation of some Chinese news media has been tainted by scandals involving inaccurate reporting,” official media quoted a GAPP spokesman as saying.
The new rules require journalists to quote at least two sources in “critical” reports and are banned from altering news photographs or video clips in a way that distorts the authenticity of the material, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
However, the rules on the GAPP official website did not define what reports the government would regard as “critical.”
News organizations will also be required to make corrections and issue apologies if their reports are found to be untrue or inaccurate, it said.
Unofficial media targeted
Lili Yang of the U.S.-based Laogai Research Foundation said that while the rules appear to be aimed at journalists in the news media controlled by the ruling Communist Party, in fact they are probably aimed at citizen journalists and bloggers using the Internet to break news stories.
“The emergence of the Internet in recent years has meant that news has become much more popularized,” Yang said.
“Especially over the past couple of years on Chinese microblogs, which have done a lot to reveal news about the darker side of society.”
“The government hates that,” she said.
The government has recently launched a campaign against what it calls “rumor-mongering” on the Internet, and the regulations banning “fabricated” news stories appear to be an extension of this, Yang said.
Reporters judged to have “fabricated” stories that result in “serious consequences” will have their press cards revoked for five years or even be barred from the journalistic profession for life, the regulations state.
News organizations that publish “untrue or inaccurate stories” could have their licenses revoked, the rules say.
“Now they have drawn a line in the sand that regulates all the official journalists and media,” Yang said. “I am worried that they will also use this to regulate the unofficial media—ordinary citizens who break news.”
“This is rather worrying,” she said.
‘No need for the order’
The move comes after top Communist Party officials held a meeting with top Internet, telecommunications, and technology executives last week, calling on them to develop what they called a “healthy Internet culture,” according to official media reports.
Xie Xuanjun, a Chinese studies scholar in New York, said he also believes the regulations effectively target the Internet.
“I think they are aimed at news on the Internet, and particularly at citizen journalists,” Xie said. “They want to limit what news ordinary people are allowed to put online.”
“Before the advent of the Internet, all the newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters were tightly controlled by the Party, so there would have been no need for an order like this,” he said.
Xie said officially approved news already goes through an extensive checking and vetting procedure before it is released.
“Things changed with the advent of the Internet, and a lot of news started coming out that they couldn’t vet [in advance].”
“A lot of news is generated by people’s use of microblogging services and websites,” Xie said.
“The Party isn’t used to the Internet age, and therefore the Internet poses the greatest subversive threat to the Communist Party.”
China’s press monitoring body says it has uncovered 160 reports that were “fabricated or inaccurate” since 2010.
China’s government has maintained its stranglehold on the media in spite of attempts by a growing number of investigative reporters to expose corruption and health and safety scandals.
Last month, it detained some netizens briefly and issued warnings to others who posted sensitive or undesirable information on websites and microblogs, official media reported.
Xinhua on Friday cited a report last July in the Gansu Daily which claimed that the northern city of Xi’an would become the next city to be elevated to provincial status and governed directly from Beijing.
“This false information affected the capital market, causing drastic fluctuations of Shaanxi-related stocks,” the agency said.
The 2010 survey of global press freedom carried out by the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked China 171st out of 178 countries and territories for journalistic autonomy.
Reported by Xi Wang for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.