The International Federation of Journalists today said that a landmark deal being negotiated between China and AOL Time Warner and News Corporation, two of the world's major media corporations "sidelines human rights and press freedom" and shows disregard for the plight of journalists and programme makers languishing in Chinese jails.
The deal gives AOL Time Warner and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation the right to broadcast television entertainment programmes in China if they agree to beam Chinese government-sponsored material into the United States.
"These agreements may be good for business, but they are bad news for independent journalism," said Aidan White, "Once again the world's leading media corporations have sidelined human rights and press freedom in order to do deals that give them access to mass markets.
"This arrangement will reinforce the cynicism among China's leaders about the commitment of western media to press freedom and professionalism," said White. "Press freedom is not a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market, but when it comes to working with China, media corporations appear ready to abandon the first principles of journalism to keep Beijing happy."
The IFJ says that the deal also undermines efforts to focus attention on journalists who are persecuted in China. "Some 14 journalists and film-makers are in jail in China because they have subverted the state's censorship and control of media," says the IFJ. "The campaign to get them released and to defend their right to freedom of expression is damaged when human rights issues are ignored like this."
The IFJ says that this year the Chinese Government has launched a new campaign against the press and notes that in August the government announced that publications can be summarily closed down for reporting on any one of seven forbidden topics including criticising the policies of the Communist Party, violating party propaganda discipline, spreading rumours or "falsified" news, questioning Marxist ideas or opposing official policies.
"While press freedom groups struggle to get the world's attention about the crackdown on the mainland Chinese press that has been taking place since January this year, media organisations have been negotiating to feather their own nests," said White.
The IFJ says that although Chinese state propaganda will be beamed into American homes, Chinese viewers will get no access to an alternative news and information service. "Most people are well able to spot political propaganda whenever it comes across their screens, " said White, "but the people of China will not get access to an independent and professional news service. Beijing's political leaders want the best of both worlds - quality entertainment on tap with their hands firmly on the controls of news and information. This deal suits them very well."
The IFJ represents around 500,000 journalists in 106 countries.