State Council official responds to media concerns about draft emergency management law

Responding to recent pressure from Chinese media and the online community over a draft emergency law some said would severely limit news media reporting on disasters, a Chinese cabinet official sought in a news briefing yesterday to cool the controversy by “clarifying” related portions of the draft emergency management law. [pdf_southern-metro-daily-coverage.pdf].

Fielding questions from reporters yesterday, Wang Yongqing (汪永清), vice director of the legal affairs office of the State Council, said the draft “does not impact the normal reporting of journalists during emergency events” and that it would not penalize media for violating regulations by local governments. The “regulations” in the draft, Wang said, pointed to national regulations and not ad hoc rules made by local leaders. The implication seemed to be that it would not be a problem for media to expose cover-ups by local governments, so long as there were not “serious” violations of national regulations.

The official’s statements were a sign of cautious progress over an issue that has worried Chinese media, and headlines today were bullish. “Media can report emergency situations as normal”, declared a page two headline in Beijing Youth Daily. Important questions remain, however. Not least of which how orders and bans from the Propaganda Department will be handled – these missives, which are generally delivered to editors by telephone, fall beyond the scope of law. And the central government’s intention is clearly to reign in what it perceives as potential enemies on both sides – a freewheeling press and entrenched local leaders.

An article in today’s edition of Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily shares the thoughts of former CMP fellows Lu Yuegang and Pu Zhiqiang on the draft law:

Concerning the Emergency Management Law (draft) being discussed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, veteran China Youth Daily reporter Lu Yuegang said portions were in conflict with China’s constitution, and that if these portions pass it will be a great shame for China’s press, “effectively putting a noose around its neck”.

This courageous reporter with a track record for brave reporting on the mainland said, “SARS, avian influenza, natural disasters, all of these were reported by the media, forcing local [governments] to pay attention to them. We’re nearing 30 years of opening and reform, and our leaders still want to use blind methods like this to rule the country. If this isn’t a great sadness for China, I don’t know what is.”

Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang told our newspaper that not only do related portions [of the draft law] violate the constitution but also go against the public’s right to know and give government a pretext for legalizing control of the news … He said this was not an isolated incident but part of a comprehensive strategy of speech control on the part of the Propaganda Department …

[Posted by David Bandurski, July 4, 2006, 11:39am]

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