Mainland journalists are not allowed to undertake "critical reporting" without the approval of their agencies, according to a new directive, prompting fears it could further undermine limited freedom of the press.
The instructions, announced yesterday by the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, also stipulated that reporters and regional media bureaus were not allowed to report "cross-industry" stories.
The Communist Party's propaganda department announced a similar regulation in 2005 that said specialised industry media were not allowed to expose wrongdoing in other industries, while regional media were banned from reporting on other regions.
The directive also said licences would be revoked for media organisations that took bribes to report stories, and the offending journalists' press cards would be cancelled. Responsible parties could be criminally liable. The directive complemented a nationwide campaign to crack down on media corruption, said Zhan Jiang, a professor of journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
"It is a regulation with a dual purpose. On the one hand, it was announced to better regulate reporters, including those from state-run media, who were taking bribes to report critical stories," Zhan said. " On the other hand, it could easily become a weapon for authorities to attack the freedom of the press."
Zhan said the directive would probably not tackle the problem of media corruption, but it could spell the end of investigative public-interest journalism.
The press administration yesterday also named several journalists and media outlets that had allegedly violated media regulations, including resorting to blackmail and fabricating news.
One provincial official newspaper was accused of forcing journalists to perform sales and circulation duties. Xinhua said the newspaper was fined 20,000 yuan (HK$25,000).
In another case, two journalists were accused of blackmailing companies for 178,000 yuan by threatening to publish negative reports on them. They face trial and have been banned from journalism for life, Xinhua reported.
In August, President Xi Jinping said the Communist Party should build "a strong army" to "seize the ground of new media".