Closing of loopholes to further gag media

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 June, 2005, 12:00am

Mainland authorities are tightening control of the media to close loopholes that until now have allowed some fresh air into the stifling official propaganda.

In recent months, the Publicity Department of the Communist Party has issued a series of directives to re-emphasise that trade publications and metropolitan newspapers must keep their news coverage to their mandated area.

The ban on 'extra-territorial' reporting deals a serious blow to investigative reporting and weakens the so-called 'oversight by media', editors and media analysts said.

Until recently, some of the high-profile exposes that shocked the nation or brought changes in government policies were made by reporters from outside the area in question, to circumvent local censorship.

For example, the Nanfang Weekly - which is published by the Southern Newspaper Group in Guangzhou - made a name for itself exposing official corruption in other provinces.

Another paper in the group, Southern Metropolis News, has often run into trouble with local authorities in areas outside Guangzhou city.

The Beijing Youth Daily also made frequent forays to expose corruptions in other cities.

The government has promoted 'oversight by media' - subjecting the performance of local officials to scrutiny by the public through the media - as a way of checking rampant corruption.

If reporters were barred from undertaking investigations outside their local areas, the exercise would lose much of its edge, a media-studies professor said.

'This [non-local] reporting has been the best hope for liberalising the news media.' said the professor.

National media, such as the China Youth Daily and CCTV, have often asserted their independence. But under the new rules, national press must 'communicate' with officials in the area being investigated and inform them of the content of the critical reporting before publishing the article or airing the programme.

Television news programme producers were also instructed to highlight the positive. Even in exposes on corruption, they must emphasise that the sleaze was an exception while the overwhelming majority of officials had high moral standards.

'Our work is getting more difficult,' said a producer with a newsmagazine programme in Beijing. 'We can only sing praises.'

The news media had been subjected to increasingly tighter controls since the summer of 2003, to rein in the open expression of opinion that spread during the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic.

Under Li Changchun , a member of the Politburo Standing Committee with the portfolio of ideological matters, the media has taken a turn to the ideological left, and the squeeze on news outlets has been unrelenting.

The use of intimidation and detention is still very much in evidence. Most recently, Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong reporter working for Singapore's The Straits Times, was detained on espionage charges.