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New regulations reinforce Xinhua news agency's control over foreign news agencies

(Sept. 12, 2006)
(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced dismay at the government-run news agency Xinhua's announcement, without any prior consultation, of new regulations reinforcing its commercial and editorial control over the distribution of foreign news agency content within China. The organisation called for a joint reaction from the US, European and Japanese governments to this new attempt to restrict the free flow of information.

"We are worried about the scope of these regulations, which could have a serious impact on the work of foreign news agencies operating in China," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is outrageous that Xinhua, the Communist Party mouthpiece, should claim full powers over news agencies. It also poses a threat to news agency journalists, who play a key role in the circulation of news in China. Xinhua is establishing itself as a predator of both free enterprise and freedom of information."

Reporters Without Borders added: "The Chinese government did everything possible to keep politics out of business negotiations during the EU-China summit that just took place. But now it is doing the exact opposite by blithely mixing business and political control. The status of foreign news agencies is a complete violation of China's commitments to the World Trade Organisation."

The regulations announced on 10 September 2006, entitled "Measures for administering the dissemination of news and information in China by foreign news agencies," concern not only mainland China but also Hong Kong and Macao and, in theory, Taiwan. They abolish a special dispensation dating back to 1996 that allowed business information agencies including Reuters to sell news to the Chinese media. Part of Xinhua's motive seems to be to muscle in on a lucrative business that has eluded it until now.

Consisting of 22 articles, the new regulations confirm Xinhua's strict monopoly of the distribution of news, photos and computer images to the Chinese media. Without any form of consultation, the foreign news agencies have been placed under the tutelage of Xinhua, which has assumed the right to grant or withhold operating licences. This contradicts foreign ministry regulations that give the ministry the power to accredit foreign news media and journalists.

Posted on Xinhua's website, the regulations ban the dissemination of news that is contrary to the Chinese constitution or any Chinese law, that endangers national unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity, national security or China's reputation and interests, that violates Chinese policy on religions, or that promotes sects and superstition. News agencies are told they must not incite hate or discrimination between ethnic groups or hurt their feelings. They are also banned from threatening China's social and economic order or cultural traditions, or from disseminating obscenities or defamation. After issuing a warning, Xinhua will be able to demand a correction, block the circulation of a report, or suspend the offending media's licence.

The Chinese media are forbidden to use foreign news agency dispatches to cover a news story. But the news agencies sell photos through Xinhua, especially international news photos. And the Chinese media can also buy business news and information from the specialised agencies.
The agencies that will be most affected are Reuters, Bloomberg, DowJones and Kyodo, all of which sell business news to the Chinese media.

A Beijing-based journalist who did not want to be named told Reporters Without Borders the foreign news agencies should "unite to combat these unfair and retrograde regulations." Another foreign news agency correspondent said Xinhua was trying "claim powers it does not have."

In September 2005, Reporters Without Borders published a report entitled "Xinhua: the world's biggest propaganda agency," which described the agency's internal functioning and how it played a key role in controlling the Chinese media. http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=15172 (boxun.com)

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