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China proposal to restrict media in emergencies may apply to foreign press

[JURIST] A Chinese Cabinet official said Monday that a draft law imposing fines on media organizations [JURIST report] for covering sudden emergencies without approval from the local government would also apply to international news organizations. It is not clear, however, whether he was expressing his own views or those of the government. The official, Wang Yongqing, the vice minister of the legislative affairs office [official website] of China's State Council [official backgrounder], indicated that the law is meant to punish government officials that poorly manage sudden emergencies and that the press clause would prevent the news media from willfully misleading the public. The Chinese government proposed the law last week and said it could take effect by October. The law, which has been sent to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress [official website; government backgrounder], would fine media organizations up to $12,000 for reporting on emergencies such as riots or natural disasters. A spokesman for the State Council's legislative office said the draft law seeks to prevent the publication of "false or bias[ed] news reports," adding that reports lacking detailed information cause public concern. Journalists fear that the draft law will give the government broad powers to restrict coverage of social and political events that may embarrass the Chinese government.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists [advocacy website] has condemned the proposed law [press release] and has urged the Chinese government to abandon it, saying "the proposal furthers attempts by the administration of Chinese President Hu Jintao to restrict reporting by China's increasingly market-driven press." The New York Times has more.

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