The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has received reports from an affiliate of a draft censorship bill being considered by the Chinese government.
The proposed bill imposes fines of up to 100,000 yuan (nearly US$12,500) on media outlets who do not conform to China’s vague censorship laws when covering emergencies.
“Covering up emergencies to save face, at the expense of human life, has long been a favoured practice of the Chinese government,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
“There has been talk of reform, but these laws are simply regressive and counterproductive to that aim.”
According to local news reports, media outlets that release inappropriate information regarding the handling of emergencies and their development, or that report false information, will incur a fine of between 50,000 and 100,000 yuan.
The draft law also reportedly requires local governments to oversee and "manage" media reports.
“Unclear censorship laws are especially damaging to press freedom,” said Warren, “journalists don’t know what they can safely report, so they often report nothing controversial at all.”
“It has the same effect as more draconian law, without the bad PR,” he said.
The official Xinhua news agency described the draft law as a response to failings around the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis in 2003.
China was widely criticised for covering up the initial outbreak of SARS, and thereby delaying action to prevent its spread.
“The government's inexperience in dealing with the emerging crisis led to one of the country's most serious health hazards,” Xinhua said.
“In response to a costly mistake like the SARS cover up, you might hope the Chinese government would relax its oppressive media laws,” said Warren, “but instead they’ve tightened their grip.”
This law continues a sustained crackdown on the Chinese media, reports IFJ affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA).
Journalist Yang Xiaoqing was sentenced this month to one year's jail on blackmailing and extortion charges after exposing local corruption in central China, says the HKJA.
For more information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in 110 countries worldwide.