Guangdong Propaganda office forces media group to fire journalist

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the Guangdong Propaganda Department for pressuring a media group to fire a journalist because he wrote a commentary for a Hong Kong outlet.

On July 18, Song Zhibiao was forced to sign an agreement terminating his contract with Nan Fang Media Group after he wrote an article for a Hong Kong-based online platform, Oriental Daily. Several journalists said Song was forced to leave Nan Fang because of the piece. They said the Guangdong Propaganda Department accused Song of violating the latest rules governing journalists. These rules were announced by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) on June 30.

The rules ban all local media workers, including news anchors, editors and “others who aid media personnel” from reporting “state secrets, commercial secrets, unpublished information, and so on”. The rules also prevent any journalist from working as a “correspondent, writer or columnist” for a local or non-local media outlet or online media. The SAPPRFT said all media outlets should sign confidentiality agreements with their personnel to ensure journalists would not disclose the content of the rules through any means, including microblogs or online forums.

In his comment piece, posted on July 16, Song analysed the differences in social reactions between two attempts by the Guangdong Province to force the Guangdong television stations to broadcast news bulletins in Mandarin instead of the regional language. The Government tried to implement the same policy four years ago, but withdrew the plan after an outcry from local people.

The IFJ Asia- Pacific Office said: “This is another incident illustrating the abuse of power by the Communist Party regulator and the ‘punishment’ meted out to a journalist for doing their job. It is clear Song’s article did not report any ‘banned information’. These new rules are being used to suppress press freedom and deprive journalists of their rights. Sadly, Nan Fang Media Group failed to protect itself and its employees from this assault on press freedom.”

The IFJ urges the Nan Fang Media Group of its obligations to defend press freedom and protect its employees. Media workers must speak up about their concerns and defend their right to report objectively in order to ensure China’s media does not act as a mere government mouthpiece.

The IFJ calls on the All Chinese Journalists Association to defend the rights of media personnel by expressing its members’ concerns to SAPPRFT and asking the regulator to withdraw the new rules. We also urge the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to investigate the case.

The IFJ emphasises that all journalists have a duty to report in the public interest, and the public’s right to know is protected under the Chinese Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are no reasonable grounds for the state to deprive people of their right to work.