IFJ urges China’s media regulator to withdraw new rules

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urges China’s major media regulator to withdraw new rules which will interfere with journalists’ right to work and prevent media workers from properly exercising their duties to report in the public interest.

On July 8, state-owned news agency Xinhua reported that the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) issued the new regulations governing journalists on June 30. The rules have far-reaching implications which ban all local media workers, including anchor-men, editors and “others who aid media personnel” from reporting “state secrets, commercial secrets, unpublished information, and so on”. The rules also further restrain journalists’ activities in their private lives. Under the rules, journalists cannot “reproduce, copy or store” the above information or “disseminate state secrets via any means to others” or “talk or write to others in private”.

The SAPPRFT said all media outlets should sign confidentiality agreements with their staff to ensure journalists do not disclose the above information to others via any means, including microblogs or online forums. The announcement did not outline any legal basis for the rules or possible penalties, and did not clarify the meaning of “others who aid media personnel”.

On July 9, a SAPPRFT official told Xinhua that “others who aid media personnel” means any journalist who works as “correspondent, writer or columnist” for a local or non-local media outlet or online media. The official also said those breaching the rules would be prosecuted under China’s laws covering state secrets or sued for civil liability for breach of agreement, and have their press accreditation cancelled. The SAPPRFT also claimed state secrecy and copyright laws provided the legal basis for the rules.

The IFJ Asia- Pacific Office said: “It is ridiculous that China, on one hand, claims only those who hold press accreditations are journalists, while on the other hand saying that the new rules extend restrictions to anyone who works for non-local media. There is no definition of ‘commercial secret’, ‘unpublished information’ and ‘and so on’ and the law itself remains disturbingly vague. But what is clear is that  these ‘rules’ definitely deprive people of their right to know and place media workers in danger.”

The IFJ said all journalists have a duty to report in the public interest, while the public’s right to know is outlined under the Chinese Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The IFJ is deeply worried that this rule might not only jeopardize press freedom but also prevent potential journalists from joining or continuing work in the the media,” the IFJ said. “We urge the SAPPRFT to withdraw these rules and urge journalists, including the All China Journalists Association to defend journalists’ rights in this case.”

The IFJ has called on the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to investigate the case and urges all media to voice their concerns and defend their right to report.