04/17/2009, 00.00
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Beijing: state control over the press is insufficient and will be increased

China's highest censorship office lashes out against the spread of "false news," and publishes new measures for oversight and sanction. Experts: in order to defend the credibility of the Chinese press, greater freedom is needed, not tighter controls.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), China's highest press censorship body, yesterday announced much more severe controls on newspapers, in order to protect the truth.

The GAPP explains that in the 18 months since January of 2008, it has had to censure 6 newspapers for the spread of false, insufficiently verified reports. In order to avoid this, it has published a circular in which it "recommends" fact checking. Newspapers are told not to give work to those who "fabricate" news, to "offer" employees refresher courses on professional norms and ethics, and to introduce rules and standard procedures on how to report and publish news. Those responsible for publication will be held responsible for false news, and will have to present "public apologies." Fines or suspension of publication are provided for the violation of the rules. A list of offending newspapers will be created, and those who spread false news could be removed from the profession.

The cases mentioned include that of the Beijing Times on September 11, 2008, according to which the China Merchants Bank had lost more than 10 billion Hong Kong dollars on bad investments: the false report created panic among investors, and caused the company's share price to crumble, with a loss of 12.7 billion yuan (1.27 billion euros).

The GAPP explains that the new measures are intended to safeguard the credibility of the press, and prevent social problems.

Analysts observe that Chinese censorship weighs heavily on the freedom of the media: on many matters, it is prohibited to release any news different from that released by the official agencies, even in the matters of natural disasters, accidents, problems in the public health sector, and situations of "social safety crisis" (like clashes between demonstrators and the police). For the Olympics, there was a ban on news likely to create a bad image for the country: bad air quality and pollution, food safety after a series of grave scandals, the journey of the Olympic torch. Following the earthquake in Sichuan last May, the authorities closed the area to foreign journalists, who were even forcibly removed, after news emerged of protests by the parents of children who died in the collapse of poorly constructed schools (in the photo), and incidents of corruption.

The Chinese government has always replied that criticisms about censorship stem from "a cultural misunderstanding," meaning the inability of the West to understand the role of information in Chinese society, which is that of contributing together with the authorities in the creation of a harmonious society.

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