A special committee was set up yesterday to fight the abuse and coercion of mainland journalists. The Committee to Protect Legitimate Rights and Interests of Journalists, founded by the All-China Journalists' Association, would 'prevent abusive threats against journalists when they are carrying out their reporting duties', Xinhua said. A spokesman for the association - which has 200,000 members - said such protection was necessary to allow journalists effectively to monitor corruption and scandals. The committee would handle appeals by journalists against abusive treatment, conduct investigations, provide legal advice, publicise serious violations of journalists' rights and refer cases to other bodies, such as government departments, the courts and party units, if disciplinary action was needed. 'The formal announcement of the establishment of such a committee is to send a warning to officials and enterprises who in the past thought they could bully or detain reporters to stop them from exposing their wrongs,' Professor Zhou Lifang, of the China School of Journalism, said. More mainland reporters are now covering cases of dereliction of duty, corruption, bureaucratic malpractice and officials' involvement in prostitution and drugs. As a result there has been a surge in the number of journalists being beaten, tortured or detained while working on their stories. 'Even reporters from mainstream media like China Central Television Station are badly treated on some occasions. Reporters from smaller or local news organisation have even less protection,' Professor Zhou said. Infringement of journalists' rights was especially bad at county and village levels, where local government and public security officials threatened reporters who tried to expose scandals, the professor said. The committee, however, would not be an organ which would push for greater press freedom and Professor Zhou said journalists' legitimate rights would only be protected properly through a press law. 'A press law will legally lay down the rights and interests of journalists and determine what the media can and cannot do,' the professor said. A revised draft of the press law has not been submitted to the National People's Congress for years, with senior officials arguing over whether it should be used to enhance press freedom or to restrain media rights.