The International Federation of Journalists has condemned attempts by Xinhua, China’s official news agency, to force international news organisations to censor news and information as the latest move in a desperate strategy to impose a “culture of ignorance and prejudice” across the country’s fast-changing media landscape.
At the weekend, the agency announced a ban on the distribution of any agency content that "harms China's national security or honour" or "disturbs the Chinese economy or social order." This matches other recent moves by Beijing to tighten media censorship. The new rules give Xinhua News Agency the power to censor the agencies’ reports in China or to revoke licences to operate in the country.
“This latest action is part of a co-ordinated attack on free expression that is potentially damaging to China’s own economic development,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is part of a concerted effort to impose a culture of ignorance and prejudice at a time when many sections of society are waking up to the benefits of a free media.”
The IFJ says that censorship by China’s communist leadership to prevent information reaching its 1.3 billion people has gained momentum in the past year. Last month officials said they planned to allow only designated websites to broadcast videos online, expanding a rule that forces foreign internet service providers to monitor their sites. The search engines of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft filter content by blocking hundreds of keywords such as “Tiananmen Square” and “democracy.”
Websites considered politically sensitive are banned. Foreign newspapers and satellite television are only available in international hotels or compounds where foreigners live. Censors occasionally rip out offending pages from foreign news magazines. Journalists and others who break the rules are subject to prosecution.
Last month, the IFJ and press freedom campaigners around the world condemned the jailing of Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong reporter for a Singapore newspaper, to five years in prison on charges of espionage.
The IFJ says the latest tightening of censorship rules could stop Chinese banks and financial institutions from access to vital economic news and information. Xinhua plans to ban reports that disrupt China’s economic and social order or undermine “social stability” or that “endangers national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Xinhua’s capacity to implement its new regime is expected to meet considerable local opposition as well as by the foreign news agencies, who criticised the agency’s double role as a regulator and as a powerful participant in the news and financial data industry. Some observers say the main reason behind the new regulations is to strengthen Xinhua's commercial hand.
Ten years ago an earlier attempt by Xinhua to limit the activities of foreign news agencies was eventually abandoned as a result of trade talks with western countries.
Xinhua, founded in 1931 as the Red China News Agency, is trying to build a financial news service and has been trying to use Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics as a lever to boost its sports coverage and photo services.
“This policy is a blow to those who have welcomed the limited progress to more openness in China in the face of economic expansion,” said White. “It is evidence that the hostility to press freedom in the country is as strong as ever.”
For further information contact the IFJ: +32 2 235 2200
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries