On the table: fines for breaking news
Mainland media outlets will face fines ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 yuan if they break news on emergencies such as natural disasters without authorisation, according to a draft law being reviewed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee.
Media organisations would also be penalised if they report on the handling and developments of such emergencies without authorisation, or publish false reports about disasters.
The law also stipulates officials in charge of handling the emergencies should release information to the public and 'manage' media reports on time. However, they are not required to make the news public if it will inhibit their work.
Public emergencies include natural disasters, accidents, public health crises and social security crises, such as protests and clashes between farmers and local officials, which are on the rise.
Journalism Professor Zhan Jiang , of the China Youth University for Political Sciences, said he was shocked to hear fines for the media were being stated in a law.
'I don't know whose idea was it to impose economic penalties on the media and even include them in a law,' Professor Zhan said. 'It is scary ... I was shocked when I read the report. I hope the NPC deputies will say something about this.'
Mainland journalists say they are often told by the Communist Party's Propaganda Department that they can only use reports on emergencies from Xinhua and independent reporting was not allowed. However, there has never been a law that sets out fines for the media if they run their own reports.
Meanwhile, the law also stipulates that individuals are responsible to report emergencies to the government, help with rescue efforts and even maintain social order. It says that people who do not obey or co-operate with local officials in cases of emergencies will face criminal charges.
Outspoken law professor Teng Biao said these clauses would make it easier for the government to penalise protesters in cases of land seizures or clashes between farmers and local officials.
'Before, they were using excuses such as 'disturbing social order' and even subversion to detain citizens fighting for their rights,' Professor Teng said.
'But now the charge can be more direct, saying they are not obeying decisions by local governments handling emergencies.'