Two jailed in clampdown on leaked data
Two former officials have been jailed for leaking confidential economic data in a move that acknowledges flaws in the mainland's loose financial regulations and sends a warning to journalists seeking scoops.
Four other officials from the securities industry are also being held for questioning, senior government and prosecutorial officials said yesterday.
Du Yongsheng, a spokesman for the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets, said at a briefing that journalists should be wary of accessing such information and exposing it before it was officially released by the government. Otherwise, they could face similar charges.
Sun Zheng, a former deputy director of the secretary's office at the National Bureau of Statistics, had been sentenced to five years in prison, said Li Zhongcheng, a deputy director of the Supreme People's Procuratorate's Department for Dereliction of Duty and Infringement on Citizens' Rights.
Meanwhile, Wu Chaoming, a former deputy director of the People's Bank of China's financial history research centre, was sentenced to six years in prison.
The leaked data pertained to the mainland's gross domestic product, consumer price index and money supply figures between June 2009 and January this year.
Such data is closely watched by domestic and international investors in financial markets but has over the years been leaked to insiders or reported by media, both at home and abroad, ahead of its official release.
While economists said the crackdown would help bring balance to the financial markets by discouraging well-connected people from using access to sensitive information to make a profit, journalists fear the move represents a further clampdown on limited press freedoms.
'I believe this initiative levels the playing field between a selected few and the masses. It is a positive development for the Chinese market,' said Hao Hong, the chief financial analyst of global strategy and equity research with China International Capital Corporation.
Wei Yao, a China economist with Societe Generale's global research and strategy division, said the crackdown would help mitigate against the culture of well-connected players in the financial world gaining advanced access to sensitive information and making money from it. 'This is unfair to most small individual investors,' Yao said.
However, Professor Yin Hong, from Tsinghua University's School of Journalism and Communication, said he feared the crackdown would place journalists, particularly foreign ones, in a more difficult position in a country where the press is tightly controlled.
'We need to speed up legislation to make more specific laws in regard to defining and protecting journalists' right to report and people's right to know,' Yin said.
Du warned foreign journalists working on the mainland not to obtain any secret information or report it before the government's approval.
'Whenever you [foreign journalists] get access to China's state secrets by accident, please report [to the government] as soon as possible and don't touch them, or you will get trouble,' Du said.
Li said some of those who leaked data received lecture fees for speaking to securities brokerages, while others traded stocks for profit under instructions from employees at such firms.
Sun was accused of having leaked a total of 27 items of classified statistical data to employees in the securities industry, according to a procuratorate statement.
The statement did not specify what economic data was leaked or give the full names of the recipients of the information.
Wu, meanwhile, was charged with having leaked 25 items of confidential statistical data over 224 occasions to 15 employees in the securities industry.