Reporting of farmland seizures outlawed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 October, 2004, 12:00am

Sources say media crackdown extends to coverage of outspoken economist

Beijing has ordered a ban on news reports of farmland seizures as it seeks to further tighten control of the media.

In a new sign of a crackdown against dissent, editors have also been told not to report on outspoken economist Mao Yushi or the Unirule Institute of Economics, co-founded by Professor Mao and other economists.

Sources said the publicity department had told media organisations that they should not report cases of farmland acquisition by local officials.

The move is a major departure after the pledge by the authorities to protect farmers' land rights was publicised last year, ensuring headlines for any illegal seizures.

But farmland seizures have become widespread and increasingly sensitive, driving hundreds of thousands of farmers to petition and protest against the government.

Many rural experts and officials have warned that the land rights issue could become a major destabilising force as farmers increasingly take drastic action after being deprived of their land.

Mainland officials have admitted that land seizures are the most common cause of rural protests at government offices.

It is understood the news blackout also covers websites specialising in exposing corruption and irregularities by local officials. They are not allowed to follow up on land-seizure cases they have been covering.

In a related move, Professor Mao, a former visiting fellow of Harvard and a prominent economist, has been blacklisted by the propaganda department.

He said yesterday the ban on news reports about him represented the attitude of the new leadership towards liberal voices.

The 75-year-old is a staunch supporter of a free-market economy. Despite holding differing views from mainstream economists, he has been quoted frequently by mainland media on economic issues.

Professor Mao said a book of his had been banned in August.

Asked if the tightened grip on freedom of expression was only a temporary phenomenon during the transition of power, Professor Mao said he believed the move represented the new leadership's style of governance.

'There are more and more areas which are out of their control and they can do little about. But in the areas they can control, they will increase control.'

He said the media ban on the 11-year-old Unirule Institute of Economics not only targeted him but also the views and activities of the institute.

Professor Mao said at least two conferences and a training course organised by the institute had been banned by the authorities since May, including a conference and training course on institutional economics.