The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that a notice issued by China’s media regulator to State-controlled media outlets appears to forbid publication of “critical reports” and could create excuses for management to impose self-censorship.
The notice was issued by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) on June 18. It specifies that journalists must not write “critical” articles without prior approval from their employers, and bars journalists from doing work “outside their assigned area of coverage”. It also demands that media outlets forbid journalists from taking bribes, and says journalists taking bribes should have their press accreditation cancelled.
There is uncertainty about the legal weight of the notice. Many independent journalists are deeply worried that their work will be hindered. However, some scholars and journalists said they believed the notice was aimed at media outlets that are directly controlled by the State and the Communist Party, such as Xinhua News Agency, China Central Television, and at journalists who have obtained press cards from the government.
Several scholars and journalists told the IFJ that independent journalists should not be affected. Moreover, it was only a notice, with no legal effect, they said.
They also allege that some State and Communist Party media outlets are believed to take bribes, and this problem needs to be addressed. However they are worried that self-censorship by management will increase, because the working environment on the Mainland has deteriorated recently.
One journalist said: “Investigative journalists must notify their superiors of the topics they are proposing to investigate. This is the practice in the media industry. Theoretically, they can start their work, but this notice might make their superiors more inclined to exercise self-censorship to halt any critical reports. In fact, no critical reports or investigative reports have been published this year.”
One journalist said many media outlets that are directly or indirectly controlled by the State or the Communist Party are closely following the restrictive orders issued this year by various monitoring departments and offices.
The IFJ Asia-Pacific office said: “It’s believed that extortion and bribery have been practised in the Mainland media industry for decades. We agree that these practices should be forbidden, but we absolutely disagree with any suppression of press freedom. The SAPPRFT does not make it clear whether the notice has any legal effect. This lack of clarity could give media managers an excuse to exercise self-censorship and block critical reports.”
We urge the SAPPRFT to clarify the intent of the notice. We urge journalists to remain firm in defence of press freedom and to reject any pressure to exercise any self-censorship.
We also urge all independent journalists to continue carrying out their duties to report and investigate issues of public concern.