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China loosens proposed restrictions on media during national emergencies

[JURIST] China's National People's Congress [official website] on Sunday revised a proposed law regulating media during national emergencies [JURIST report] after delegates and local people's congresses criticized the law as improper. The proposal, first introduced last June, would have imposed fines up to $13,000 on media outlets that report on public emergencies such as floods or disease outbreaks without formal authorization or using fabricated information. The new draft, a response to concerns that local governments may use the law to suppress negative disaster coverage to avoid embarrassment, removes the government authorization requirement and only targets media outlets that fabricate or use fabricated information. Media outlets deemed to have violated the law will be subjected to "warnings, punishment, or prosecution" if the false reporting caused "serious consequences." The law defines public emergencies as to include industrial accidents, natural disasters, and also public health and security crises.

China [JURIST news archive] has been accused of attempting to cover up the extent of natural disasters or disease outbreaks. In 2003, China received widespread criticism for its handling of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) [CDC backgrounder] epidemic. Local authorities reportedly downplayed statistics and restricted media coverage, causing delays in efforts to treat or quarantine the disease. AFP has more. The China Daily has local coverage.

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