Journalists on the mainland will be required to take re-assessment tests as of next year and only those who pass will be issued with licences to work. The licence system has sparked fears that journalists not toeing the party line will be forced out of the profession. Officials in charge say the system, which is designed to encourage competition among China's half a million journalists, will raise standards in the profession. But practising journalists fear that the new system might be used to screen out the independent-thinking reporters. A senior editor from a major party newspaper said the licence system would enable censors to maintain their grip on journalism at a time when news organisations are gaining greater freedom to recruit new talent under the market mechanism. Officials have warned that licensed journalists could have their professional certification confiscated if they 'violated news discipline'. 'The certification is not a life-long guarantee, violators' certifications would be withdrawn, they might be barred from re-taking the qualification examinations for a couple years or for life,' Lin Jiang of the State Press and Publication Administration told the South China Morning Post. Mr Lin said the tests would cover publication regulations, news codes, policies relating to press and publications as well as Chinese Communist Party ideologies. Under the current system, journalists can be laid off or demoted if they publish political or other mistakes. They can, however, work for minor or regional publications after dismissal. But after the licence system is in full operation, no news organisation would be allowed to employ journalists without the professional certification. The certification system has been initiated by the Personnel Ministry and will be implemented and supervised by the State Press and Publication Administration. Journalists who fail the examinations will be given a three- to five-year transition period to re-take the tests. Those who fail repeatedly within the deadline will be forced to leave the profession.