Free media for Games = media free of bad news, one city says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2007, 12:00am

While the central government's new regulations lift restrictions on foreign media ahead of the Olympic Games, a local government in Shandong province has issued a document urging cadres to sweep negative stories under the carpet.

In a document issued by the city government of Pingdu on Friday, all departments, organisations and officials were urged to prepare for the challenge brought by the lifting of restrictions on foreign media.

The document said they should 'use all measures to downsize the impact of negative reporting to a minimum level', adding that end-of-year appraisals would look at success in blocking negative news.

They were also told to report to the city publicity department before giving interviews.

Other measures include controlling leaks and 'blocking malicious information that might intensify social conflicts and uneasiness'.

The Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games has assured the International Olympic Committee that it will respect media freedom and foreign reporters will be able to cover the Games in the same way they covered the Athens and Sydney events.

Investigative reporter Wang Keqin said the Pingdu document showed local officials were scared of the increased transparency brought by a more open media environment because 'only bad things need covering up, and only guilty officials fear publicity'.

'These measures are a long-standing practice by local officials to deal with reporters, but it's funny to see them stated in writing and aimed at foreign reporters,' Wang said.

Former Bingdian Weekly editor Li Datong said the measures went against Beijing's efforts to boost transparency and assist foreign media ahead of the Olympics and showed that 'local government officials are obsessed with safeguarding their position by blocking bad news and cheating the public'.

'There have been many documents like this in the past to show officials how to combat Chinese reporters,' he said. 'Reporters cannot expect full transparency ... officials have to suppress the spreading of negative news ... which might endanger their positions.'

Positive spin

Cadres have been told:

Keep negative news to a minimum and highlight good news

Handle the media like they handle petitioners' complaints

Identify potential 'bad news' every month and 'nip it in the bud'

Avoid getting too cosy with reporters

Stop rumour-mongering on the internet

Poor handling will count against them in annual appraisals