China to grant 'more' press passes - but journalists must sign secrecy deal first

State media regulator says 250,000 journalists expected to be granted press certificate, after they sign agreement not to share information

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 12:49pm

Mainland journalists are now forced to sign a secrecy agreement with their employers before they can obtain a press pass, in another step in the party's tightening grip on the media.

Journalists for the first time will have to sign the confidentiality agreement as a prerequisite to the press certificate, a unique system on the mainland that gives holders access to significant state events and official interviews.

Central government departments tend to grant interviews only to reporters who carry the certificate.

Under the agreement - which comes in force today - journalists should not release information they get from interviews, press conferences or other events on their personal blog, microblog or their messaging app WeChat without their employers’ consent.

They are also banned from referencing this information in public events, such as forums, and passing on tips to the foreign media or writing columns for them.

Mainland reporters, who work under heavy censorship, sometimes pass on information they are not allowed to pursue to foreign media.

The restrictions echo a ban, announced last week, on sharing information and "state secrets".

Read more: Mainland media regulator bans journalists from sharing information

A Sarft circular issued at the end of last month stated that mainland news agencies must have all journalism staff sign the agreement.

Not all active journalists on the mainland have the press pass, which is authorised by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (Sarft). Tabloids and online news portals, for instance, still operate even if most of their reporters do not have a pass.

However, not having the certificate restricts the amount of information the journalist can gather, especially when it comes to the sole party that rules the country.

Sarft announced on Monday that journalists must renew their press passes until the end of October. Certificates can be granted to more journalists working for online news portals, it added.

The authority estimates that around 250,000 reporters will receive the new version of the press pass after they sign the agreement.

If they breach the secrecy agreement, media practitioners will be “disciplined” or, if there are serious repercussions from their actions, face civil punishment.

In one controversial case of sharing information on the job, Luo Changping, a deputy editor of mainland magazine Caijing, posted a series of allegations on his microblog last year against Liu Tiannan, a former official of the National Energy Administration.

Luo alleged that the official had taken bribes, faked his master’s degree and had extramarital affairs - charges that led to the sacking of Liu last May.

However, in November last year, the hard-hitting Caijing editor was removed from his post and moved to a more innocuous position at the paper's research institute.

In another case, outspoken independent journalist Gao Yu, 70, has been in criminal detention since April for allegedly leaking a confidential Communist Party document to the overseas media last year.