Top censor in bid to clarify journalists' conduct code

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 November, 2008, 12:00am

The top censor for mainland print media, the General Administration of Press and Publication (Gapp), has issued a notice on the journalism code of conduct amid outrage over the 'hush money' scandal, when a Shanxi coal mine paid journalists for silence after a mining accident.

The notice banned local authorities from imposing news blackouts or refusing news outlets access to information, while reaffirming some of the basic rights of reporters, including the right to information and the right to report.

More than 24 journalists, including many bogus reporters, were found to have collected a total of 125,700 yuan (HK$143,150) in hush money from the Huobaogan River Coal Mine in Hongdong county, Shanxi province , in September after agreeing not to report a mining accident in which a worker died.

The scandal was widely perceived as a major embarrassment to the watchdog as it has called into question its oversight and the credibility of mainland news outlets, which have been dogged in recent years by a slew of scandals involving paid journalism, bogus reporting and the rising number of unlicensed reporters on the mainland.

The head of Baptist University's journalism department, Huang Yu, noted that the new policy made some headway in pushing for greater access to information by the media, as for the first time it tried to address the roles regional authorities often play in news blackouts.

Professor Huang added that Gapp might not have direct authority over other government departments, 'but it could still exert some significant influence upon local authorities given its unique ideological role on the mainland'.

The notice stressed that no body or individual should interfere in reporters' activities if they strictly followed the law, which could be a step closer to removing a major straitjacket that bars mainland news outlets from reporting in places other than the jurisdiction in which they were licensed, he said.

One of the oldest business newspapers, China Business Post, licensed in Inner Mongolia , was suspended for three months as punishment for a controversial feature on alleged illicit assets deals at an Agricultural Bank of China branch in Guangdong. The notice has also reaffirmed a ban on unlicensed reporters and paid journalism.

It has been an open secret that mainland journalists regularly accept money for favourable reporting, with some carving out a career posing as journalists to extort money from unscrupulous coal-mine owners who look to buy their way out of repercussions in the wake of an accident. Twenty-six of the 28 journalists who were implicated in the hush-money scandal in Shanxi province were not licensed as reporters.

Dai Xiaojun , a reporter with the West Times newspaper who exposed the scandal at the Shanxi mines, wrote in his weblog that the government should encourage the public to come forward with such irregularities by developing an award system for tip-offs.