China censors news of 'Panama Papers' as high-ranking officials named

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly criticizes the continued suppression and censorship of key news by the Chinese government, following the release of the ‘Panama Papers’. The IFJ calls on the government to end its restrictions on the media and speech, which continues to hinder press freedom in China.

In early April, more than 11 million documents, detailing the use of offshore holdings in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, were anonymously leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ launched an international investigation, now known as the Panama Papers. The documents revealed the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders, including members of China’s Communist Party elite. Relatives of President Xi Jinping as well as eight other members of the Communist Party, including members of the politburo standing committee were named in the papers.

Following the release of the leaked papers, media outlets across the globe have covered the story, yet in China the story remains largely unpublished. According to the China Digital Times, the provincial Cyber Administrative Office made an oral directive to local media that banned the publication of the papers. The directive also said that if media who had already published reports did not remove them immediately they would face harsh punishments. A number of outlets did not follow the directive, with some publishing reports, but kept them off the front page of newspapers and websites. Any of the reports that were published by Chinese media regarding the papers, withheld the information surrounding Chinese officials.  

This is not the first time that news regarding tax evasion of Chinese officials has been suppressed. In 2012 and 2014 news broke of tax evasion by key Chinese officials, however as was the case with Panama Papers, the media was banned from reporting on it.

The news of the Panama Papers comes just a few days after the media were issued a directive banning them from reporting on the winning film at the Hong Kong Film Awards on April 3. The film, Ten Years, has been controversial as it focuses on the political and social future of Hong Kong and the extended influence of China. The directive also banned the media from interviewing the stars of Addicted a movie about the lives of LGBTQ people.

The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said: “The suppression of news, both of local and international importance, is a tool of control that the government of China needs to end immediately. The ban on reporting of the Panama Papers, an international news story, is a violation of press freedom, which is fast becoming a black mark on China’s reputation globally. The IFJ calls on the government to end its repressive control of the media.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries

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