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China defends controls on media freedom

By Staff
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BEIJING, Apr 18 (Reuters) China defended its latest rules controlling foreign content in domestic media and on television today, saying the government was simply protecting intellectual property rights but was still committed to an open market.

Senior officials also said Chinese people preferred reading foreign magazines on science and technology -- which are permitted by the government -- and that sensitive topics of religion and politics were unsuitable for local readers.

The defence came the same day Chinese President Hu Jintao embarks on a trip to the United States where he will meet President George W Bush, who is likely to raise human rights and individual freedom issues.

This month, the country's media regulators have issued a series of notices aimed at regulating media content in an attempt to control an increasingly free-wheeling news environment.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television reissued notices restricting local broadcasters' use of foreign news footage and the General Administration of Press and Publications introduced restrictions on foreign magazines publishing Chinese versions.

''I don't think you have an accurate understanding of the contents of the notice,'' Hu Zhanfan, deputy director of the broadcasting regulator, told a news conference.

Some local television and radio stations had been using news from foreign media organisations but without signing proper contracts, Hu said, and hence the notice was issued.

''The aim is to guarantee the accuracy and reliability of news reports and to protect intellectual property rights,'' he said, adding that China would continue to cooperate with foreign media.

Chinese stations are only supposed to use foreign reports filtered through state-run China Central Television.

Another pronouncement confirmed by the government this month but actually promulgated last year allows only foreign science and technology magazines to develop Chinese versions through tie-ups with approved local partners.

This was to be expected, said Liu Binjie, vice minister of the publishing watchdog, as China was a developing country with a thirst for foreign technologies and learning.

''For political or religious publications, it's not very suitable for the national or the cultural condition of China,'' Liu said.

He repeated an earlier assertion that the Chinese edition of U S-based Rolling Stone magazine, which was suspended in March after just one issue, had lacked the proper publishing authority.

The remarks are unlikely to cut much ice with overseas groups pressing China to relax its vice-like grip on the media.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists urged Bush to help secure the release of 32 jailed or detained Chinese journalists, including New York Times researcher Zhao Yan who is still custody despite a court decision to drop charges of leaking state secrets against him.

The group accused Hu in a statement of overseeing ''the most severe crackdown on the media'' since the aftermath of the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led pro-democracy demonstrations centred on Tiananmen Square.

REUTERS OM DS1640

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