A draft Chinese law flagging
fines for media reporting disasters without official authorisation is aimed at
"irresponsible" journalists but may cover foreign reporters, a Chinese official
said on Monday.
Chinese news reports of the proposed Law on Response to Contingencies, which
threatens fines of 50,000 yuan (US$6,250) to 100,000 yuan (US$ 12,500)for
misleading reports, last week provoked worries among Chinese journalists and
advocates of free speech who say it will add to officials' brimming armoury of
"It's bad law," said He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University who
often criticises state controls. "If it becomes law, it will become even more
impossible for news media to report truthfully when sudden events occur."
But the law is intended to improve news and protect society by stressing both
officials' duty to disclose and journalists' duty to report accurately, said
Wang Yongqing, Vice-Minister of the State Council Legislative Affairs Office.
"If information released is untruthful or inaccurate, or if information is
bogus, it can spark unnecessary panic in society and even create grave social
harm," Wang told a news conference in Beijing. "A fundamental goal of this law
is to force the government to give timely information."
The fines would be levied only when reporters issue maliciously false reports
or when groundless reports create serious social harm, Wang said. "None of these
regulations will restrict or adversely affect timely reporting," he said.
But the proposed law nonetheless stipulates that reporters should seek
government approval before reporting on natural disasters, outbreaks or disease,
riots and other kinds of what China calls "sudden events" or "contingencies."
Officials should "engage in managing related media reports," it says. Wang
said the law would apply to major protests and riots, as well as natural
disasters, mine accidents and other unexpected events.
The law will also apply to foreign news organisations reporting from China,
"If a Chinese reporter goes to France or Britain, he also has to abide by
your laws," Wang told reporters. "It's aimed at the activity. If you engage in
reporting activities - including myself, Wang Yongqing - you also have to obey
Wang said there was no firm date for putting the proposed law on the books,
but it was possibly some time this year. The draft law has not been released to
the public, apart from the fragments reported in the press and cited by Wang.