July 11, 2014 at 8:23 am

China tells reporters to work within state media

Chinese journalist Gao Yu, who was imprisoned for nearly 6 year in the 1990s on charges of leaking state secrets and later detained in May 2014 on suspicion of leaking secrets to a foreign site. (Kin Cheung / AP)

Beijing — Chinese regulators have banned the country’s journalists from sharing information they have obtained on the job with overseas media or publishing it in any venue, such as blogging sites, outside the media they are employed, in a move that critics say will further stifle press freedom and curb the influence of social media.

The regulations, which were detailed in a June 30 document but released this week, come at a time when Chinese journalists have been accused of using their positions to blackmail. But the rules will also impact journalists who, frustrated with tight news controls over what they can publish in their own companies, sometimes release information they have obtained to outlets outside mainland China or in social media, such as their personal blogs.

“Now they have been left with no venue at all,” Shanghai-based independent commentator Zhao Chu said. “The measures are worsening China’s press freedom, which is already on its last breath.”

In an explanatory note, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said the acts by journalists have “disturbed the normal news order” and hurt the interest of the ruling Communist Party as well as China’s national interest.

Invoking laws on national secrecy, intellectual property rights and labor contracts, the government agency said Chinese journalists accredited to work for state media shall not provide information to overseas news outlets as special contributors or release information in venues such as blogs, microblogs, forums or seminars without prior permission.

The agency requires journalists to sign an agreement to keep information obtained on the job but unpublished confidential, now a prerequisite for employment.

The lack of media freedom is accompanied by an environment where some reporters solicit bribes in return for not running stories that may embarrass a company or person.

In May, Beijing police detained prominent journalist Gao Yu on suspicion of leaking state secrets to a foreign site. Gao has been a regular contributor to the German news broadcaster Deutsche Welle, and her latest charge likely has stemmed from her obtaining a high-level Communist Party document and providing it to an unnamed overseas news site. Gao, however, was not employed by Chinese state media.

Critics have said Beijing has vaguely defined national secrets, making it easy to punish journalists the government sees as overstepping its rules.

Shi Shusi, a Beijing-based commentator and a veteran journalist, said the new rules are the latest effort by Beijing to combat the challenge posed by the Internet to its traditional control of information, as Chinese journalists have found new platforms on the Internet to share information.

“Unlike regular people, they are professionals who have the right to collect information, and they have conveyed the information in a different narrative (online than in traditional media,)” Shi said. “They have gathered quite some influence, and Beijing now wants to regulate them through their employers.”

Chen Min, a former Chinese journalist, said the new rules “in essence are depriving the right of the public to know.”

“To put it bluntly, you now can only say what’s sanctioned by China’s propaganda officials,” said Chen, now a visiting scholar in Taiwan.