10/26/2006, 00.00
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Criticism of Chinese censorship stems "from cultural misunderstanding"

China's information minister said yesterday that Chinese websites are the freest in the world in terms of exchange of ideas. If some journalists and cyber-dissidents are in jail it is not for expressing unpleasant ideas about the government but for some other reasons.

Washington (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Cai Wu, China's information minister, said at an event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, that international claims that his country tramples internet and media freedoms stem from a cultural misunderstanding of the role the press plays in Chinese society, where news media must work with the government. In his view, Chinese websites "offer probably the freest forum for opinion in the world". Hence, Mr Cai rejected the US State Department's annual global human rights report which accuses China of clamping down on print, broadcast and electronic media and censoring internet content.

With more than 100 million internet users and millions of websites, Cai said that when a breaking news story emerges, thousands of follow-up posts spring up within minutes in cyberspace. Never the less, "in China, we think that the relationship between the media, the society and the government should be characterised by coordination and cooperation, rather than by confrontation," he said.

China, he explained, has different "press concepts" than the West. "In some Western countries, good news is not news; bad news or strange news is news."

The minister did not address the issue of imprisoned journalists or speak about any specific cases. However, "I can assure you," he said, "that in China no journalist or any individual will be arrested or jailed due to his different opinion or [because] he expressed some opinion against the government. Maybe there are some other reasons" for arrests.

Notwithstanding Mr Cau's claims to the contrary, media repression, often illegal, is widespread in China. Thanks to major internet companies, Beijing is able to control who uses the cyberspace to publish information unpleasant for the regime.

A new law bans news medias from publishing information on emergency situations before local authorities do. It imposes fines ranging from 50,000 to 10,000 yuan € (5-10,000; US$ 6-12,000) on wrongdoers.

For national and international news media, Hong Kong included, mining accidents, environmental disasters, threats to public health, even clashes between farmers and police all come under the same umbrella.

Similarly, on 10 September Xinhua published rules pertaining to the sale and dissemination of foreign news in China. All Chinese clients can now get their news only through the government agency, which reserves the right to "choose news" and "delete" prohibited news.

The long list of "prohibitions" includes any news item that "disrupts China's economic and social order and undermines China's social stability", its "national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity," and which might "incite hatred and discrimination among ethnic groups" or "undermine their unity".

Rules already in force for local media and the internet will apply to foreign news agencies which will not be able to report information that might "violate China's religious policies or preach evil cults or superstitions."

The rules apply with immediate effect to written text, photos, graphics and other means of communication.

Agencies that do not submit to these rules could lose their accreditation and right to report news about China.

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