The mainland's media watchdog has said reporters' rights to 'exercise checks and balances' in public matters must be protected - a stance that analysts say might produce an environment for a freer press, at least for exposing business scandals. The statement was made in an article published yesterday in the China Press and Publishing Journal, the mouthpiece for the General Administration of Press and Publication (Gapp), and carried on its website. 'The government has suggested that journalists' rights could be better protected, compared to the past where they were constantly suppressed,' said Hu Xingdou , a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology. 'We might see a better future and freedom for the 'fourth power'.' A spokesman from Gapp's newspaper division said that media outlets 'are protected by law to exercise their rights in informing, interviewing, publishing, criticising and overseeing, and media workers' reporting activities are protected, as well.' The support came after police in Zhejiang scrapped a detention warrant for Qiu Ziming, a Shanghai-based journalist for the Economic Observer who had exposed apparent insider trading and wrongdoing at Kan Specialty Materials, a Zhejiang company that manufactures paper and batteries. Police and local government officials made an official apology to the newspaper in Beijing on Friday, while Qiu was on holiday after having been in hiding. Wang Shengzhong, the newspaper's deputy editor-in-chief, applauded Gapp's move, calling it a 'very good beginning' for a greater press freedom. Even so, the press needed more than official support, he said. Public recognition is key to reporting in remote areas. Wen Yunchao, a Guangzhou-based media analyst, said it was 'rare to see official support in protecting journalists' rights especially when Qiu is still on probation and hasn't been granted a reporter identity card yet'. A number of threats and assaults have recently been made against journalists who have disclosed business scandals. Song Shinan, a media analyst based in Sichuan, said the violence had prompted Gapp's move. It might be a step towards greater press freedom, but only in the short term. The system still has problems. 'Domestic media coverage is ... restricted by administrative oversight, and it can be bribed away in a crisis, anyway,' Song said. Authorities were happy to let the media have a voice in the community, especially to monitor business practices, Hu said. But when the reporting touches on political and social matters, concerns arise. Hu said what journalists needed most to defend their rights was a media law. Gapp has issued and revised a number of guidelines to step up protection of journalists over the past three years. They pledged to check whether guidelines were properly implemented and ordered media watchdogs below the state level to do a better job of protecting the media's rights.