Crackdown on use of online news sources

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2011, 12:00am


The central government is tightening rules on journalists, saying it is part of a campaign to curb fake news, but journalists say it is another move to step up censorship.

New regulations issued by the General Administration of Press and Publication (Gapp) require local reporters to 'guard against using rumours as sources for their reports', Xinhua said.

Reporters 'must insist on doing their reporting in the field and not rely on unverified hearsay or other non-first-hand information in their reports', the regulations say.

Xinhua said reporters will have their press cards revoked for at least five years and could face being barred from journalism for life if they are found to have fabricated stories that result in 'serious consequences'.

News organisations risk having their reporting licences revoked or services suspended if they publish false or inaccurate stories.

Last week, the heads of the mainland's largest information technology companies endorsed Beijing's plan to intensify controls on online social media, pledging to 'stop the spread of harmful information'.

The pledge by the private and state-owned firms backs government efforts to tighten its grip over the internet, which has become a platform for mainlanders to express opinions and frustrations often picked up by the mainstream media.

Late last month, Beijing vowed to strengthen internet administration and promote acceptable content, according to a communique issued at a leadership conclave.

Xinhua said the new regulations are aimed at increasing the credibility of Chinese news organisations. Citing a Gapp spokesman, it said the reputation of some media had been tainted by inaccurate reporting.

'There must be at least two different news sources in critical reporting, and reporters must keep evidence to ensure truth, accuracy and objectivity,' the new rules say.

Analysts questioned whether Gapp's new administrative measures were the right way to increase reporters' integrity and professionalism, while worrying that press freedom could be further restricted.

Zhan Jiang, journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said: 'The regulation is possibly the result of pressure on Gapp by local governments or powerful enterprises to limit critical cross-regional reporting of large incidents.'

Stories embarrassing to provincial governments are often broken by reporters from other areas. A reporter at the Oriental Morning Post said the regulations would cause problems with cross-regional reporting.

Qiao Mu, associate professor and director of the International Communication Research Centre at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said: 'It's right to request reporters stick to journalistic ethics, but it's beyond Gapp's remit.

'It's not always practical to verify all online information under the pressure of a deadline. Reporters should evaluate how trustworthy information is and attribute it clearly.'