China’s media regulator has warned journalists that they may be put on trial if they share state secrets during their career – a reminder that the long-standing state secrets law will be enforced.
The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television’s (Sarft) warning came just after it forbade journalists from disclosing – online or to overseas media – information they obtained throughout the course of their work, a move that sparked fears about a tightening grip on the media.
”Media employees would be held accountable and the suspects would be handed over to judicial departments if they breach regulation and disclose information that cause the leaking of [state] secrets,” an unnamed official earlier told Xinhuanet.com during a question-and-answer session to clarify the Sarft restriction.
Journalists are required to sign confidentiality agreements with the media organisation they work for, according to a directive issued at the end of last month but which was only published on the regulator’s website earlier this week.
The directive requires journalists and media groups to enhance control over “all kinds of information and materials they obtain during their work”, which include “state secrets, commercial secrets and information that has not been publicly disclosed”.
Mainland journalists cannot pass on such information to domestic and overseas media and websites, or work as special correspondents or special freelancers for foreign media, the unnamed official said.
Journalists would face penalties from their employers, he added.
Those who “cause serious consequences” would see their press credentials revoked or limited – and they could even be banned from the profession, the official added.
In cases where state secrets are leaked, journalists may be handed over to the police.
Overseas human rights groups have long criticised China for having a vague and arbitrary definition of state secrets.
All media employees, including journalists, editors, television and radio announcers and anchormen, as well as other staff offering technical support, are prohibited from “illegally copying, recording, storing state secrets, transferring state secrets in any form and referring any state secrets in private contacts and communications”, according to the directive.
Mainland journalists, who are already under strict censorship, sometimes pass on to foreign journalists the information they are not allowed to pursue further.
In one of the most recent high-profile cases, outspoken independent journalist Gao Yu, 70, was placed under criminal detention in April for allegedly leaking a confidential Communist Party document to foreign media last year.