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Officials To Watch for "Negative Content" in Supplements About Earthquake

Publishing regulators should ensure that magazine or periodical supplements related to the May 12 earthquake do not contain "negative content," according to a May 22 circular issued by the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), a government agency with the power to screen, censor, and ban any print, electronic, or Internet publication in China. The Circular Regarding Supporting Periodicals in Publishing Anti-Quake Disaster Relief Supplements does not define the term "negative content." The GAPP exercises tight control over the publishing industry in China and magazines generally may publish only two supplements a year with the approval of the relevant press and publication administration of the province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the central government (see Article 34 of the Provisions on the Administration of Periodical Publishing). Article 1 of the May 22 circular allows press and publication officials to approve an additional one or two supplements related to "anti-quake disaster relief" for magazines that have reached the two-supplement limit. Article 2 calls on officials reviewing applications to publish these supplements to "take strict precautions against negative content appearing in supplements" and to "attach great importance to the supplement's public opinion guidance function."

Despite the outward appearance of some initial openness in Chinese media coverage of the earthquake, Chinese officials have continued to use their control over the media to shape post-quake coverage and public opinion to their advantage. In addition to the GAPP circular, the Communist Party's Central Propaganda Department and a top official of the Politburo have instructed reporters to emphasize stories showcasing the government's rescue efforts and the unity of the Chinese nation, while avoiding or downplaying controversial topics such as parents protesting over schools that collapsed in the quake.

Such state-enforced manipulation of the media to promote the Party's political agenda violates international standards for freedom of expression. Article 19 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China signed and has committed to ratify, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), guarantees the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas. The ICCPR and UDHR permit states to restrict this freedom under a limited number of circumstances, but furthering a political agenda is not one of the permitted exceptions. In addition to the ICCPR and UDHR protections, Article 35 of China's Constitution provides that Chinese citizens enjoy freedom of the press.

For more information on how the Party uses the Chinese media to serve its own interests, see "Roles the Media Is Expected to Play" in Section II--Freedom of Expression of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's 2007 Annual Report. For more information on the various agencies responsible for censorship in China, click here.

Source: -See Summary (2008-06-11 / English / Free) | Posted on: 2008-06-25  
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