China Outlines More Curbs For Journalists, Stifles Press Freedom

Journalists raise their hands to ask questions during a press conference by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang following the closing of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on March 13, 2014 [DPA].

By Stephan Scheuer (DPA)

BEIJING (DPA) — China has broadened its restrictions on journalists for the second time in a week, with its media regulating agency forbidding Chinese reporters from passing on any information to foreign media or publishing sensitive information on blogs and other social media.

In an attempt to bypass censorship reporters would routinely pass on their work to foreign media for publication.

In its announcement Thursday on the fresh curbs, the State Administration of Press Publication, Radio, Film and Television criticized investigative journalists and said that those who worked for state media "had abused their position."

One journalist based in Beijing called it "a disturbing development."

On Tuesday, the regulator said rules governing the disclosure of state and commercial secrets by journalists would be tightened.

It said news workers must not store, copy or record national and commercial secrets and information that has not been made public.

The new rules also force media outlets to increase oversight of sensitive material and to require its journalists and other employees to sign confidentiality agreements.

China ranks 175 of 180 countries on the press freedom index assessed by Reporters Without Borders, an international watchdog group.

On June 18, the Chinese regulator said reporters must not research contentious topics or publish critical material without prior approval.

Journalists were also barred from publishing contentious reports on blogs and other non-mainstream news websites, a strategy that was widely used to circumvent state censorship.

Those restrictions "are part of a much larger government crackdown aimed at suppressing criticism of any subject deemed harmful by the government of President Xi Jinping to its own interests," said Bob Dietz, the Asia programme coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"It effectively undermines the watchdog role of the media by threatening to punish any journalist or media organization reporting news that has not been approved by the government," he said.

China adopted tough measures to rein in online reporting last year in the wake of Xi taking on the presidency in November 2012. Critics said the campaign aims to curb criticism of his ruling Communist Party.