Open Letter to China's Leaders Marks World Press Freedom Day

Hu Jintao, President of China 

 

Wen

Jiabao, Premier of China

 

 

Esteemed President Hu and Premier Wen, 

 

To mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the International

Federation of Journalists (IFJ) respectfully asks that you, in your

capacity as China’s most

senior leaders, and the ruling Communist Party honour public promises to build respect

for the independence and rights of China’s journalists and media professionals.

 

Since the beginning of 2010, propaganda departments across China have

issued numerous orders that restrict journalists in conducting their work

in the public interest. These restrictions contradict statements made by

yourselves in which you offer assurance that China's media environment is

one in which freedom of the press and freedom of expression will not be

obstructed.

 

The

IFJ respectfully reminds you of Premier Wen’s progress report delivered to the

National People’s Congress on March 5. In the report, Premier Wen says, “In

order to develop a socialist democratic society, we have to protect peoples’

rights, in particular the rights to election, participation, expression,

supervision and knowledge.”

 

President

Hu made a similar pledge in 2009, during a visit to the offices of the China

Daily.

 

The

IFJ welcomes these statements in support of press freedom and freedom of

expression, which are in keeping with guarantees enshrined under Article 35 of

China’s Constitution. 

 

It is

therefore distressing to learn that government departments at the central and

provincial levels continue to issue orders and restrictions which prevent

professional journalists from doing their job and reporting in a manner that

serves the public interest.

 

The IFJ is especially concerned that journalists should be able to keep

ordinary people informed about important issues to do with public health and

safety, most recently in regard to the aftermath of the Qinghai earthquakes and the distribution of

spoiled vaccines to children. Official government efforts to obstruct reporting

on these important public concerns echo similar restrictions in regard to

contaminated milk and the Sichuan

earthquake in 2008.

 

Yet journalists and media workers, including online

journalists, are frequently harassed and penalised by authorities when they

seek to fulfil their professional duty to inform the wider public about

important issues.

 

One example is the sacking in March this year of a senior

editor because 13 newspapers simultaneously published the same editorial

calling on members of the National People’s Congress to consider reform of China’s

residency system.

 

Another example is the ban on media reporting on

the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years’ jail in December

on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” due to six articles he wrote

between 2005 and 2007.

 

The IFJ is further concerned that strict censorship

on information disseminated over the internet, including news reporting, denies

China’s

population access to important information that they need to make informed

choices.

 

Press freedom, freedom of expression, access to

information and the right to know are basic human rights to be enjoyed by all

peoples, as stipulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

The IFJ respectfully urges you to employ your

authority to take action to ensure these rights are upheld in China, in

accordance with your public statements. In particular, we urge that you direct

propaganda department officials – at the central and federal levels – to desist

from seeking to obstruct reporting by journalists and all forms of media, in

recognition of the rights we celebrate every year on World Press Freedom Day.

 

Respectfully, Jacqueline Park

IFJ Asia-Pacific