China - Congress passes law censoring disaster

    MONTREAL, Aug. 31 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders condemns
yesterday's approval by the National People's Congress of a law which,
according to the official news agency Xinhua, "bans the fabrication and spread
of false information on accidents and disasters and requires the government to
provide accurate and timely information." Called the Emergency Response Law,
it will take effect on 1 November.
    "Adopting legislation on the management of public emergencies may be a
good thing, but turning it into a tool for reinforcing censorship is
unacceptable," the press freedom organisation said. "All the Chinese media are
already controlled by the Publicity Department, and this law in practice
deprives them of the ability to provide an alert service in situations of
    Reporters Without Borders added: "The Chinese authorities appear not to
have drawn the lessons from the SARS crisis, in which lives could have been
saved if they had not imposed a news blackout."
    The law's initial draft included provision for fines of between 50,000
and 100,000 yuan on news media that published unauthorised reports about
emergencies. This provision was withdrawn, but the final version nonetheless
stipulates that news media could lose their licence if they put out false
information on accidents and disasters.
    In practice, the media will be limited to reproducing Xinhua's despatches
on "industrial accidents, natural disasters, health and public security
hazards" and will be unable to conduct their own investigations. A Xin Kuaibao
(New Express) columnist last year argued that "there will be no way of
verifying whether the information coming from the authorities is true and
accurate" and that the law could "become a way for corrupt officials to hide
their dishonesty."
    Widely criticised in the local press, the law's adoption was facilitated
by last month's scandal about a fabricated TV report on a bakery that
allegedly put shredded cardboard into its dumplings.

    Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press
freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium,
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has
representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has
more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Directrice générale, Reporters
Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514) 521-7771,

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