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China says draft law to make media "responsible"

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, July 3 (Reuters) A draft law proposing fines for Chinese media outlets that report natural disasters and other emergencies without authorisation is to prevent ''social harm'', a Chinese official said today.

Reports of the proposed law, which also threatens fines of 50,000 yuan (6,250 dollars) to 100,000 yuan for bogus reporting, in Chinese newspapers last week aroused concern among local journalists and advocates of free speech.

China has a history of covering up emergency incidents, and news blackouts are regularly imposed by sensitive propaganda mandarins nervous about the effects of news reports on the image of the ruling party.

The rationale of the law is to improve media reporting and protect society, said Wang Yongqing, vice-minister of the state council legislative affairs office, reading from a prepared statement.

''Natural disasters, accidents, public health incidents and other contingencies are highly harmful and have a broad-ranging impact,'' Wang said.

''If information released is untruthful or inaccurate, or if information is bogus, it can spark unnecessary panic in society and even create grave social harm.'' Wang said that although the law obliges government authorities to provide ''timely and accurate information'', news media should ''bear the social responsibility'' of reporting.

The fines would only be levied in serious circumstances, Wang said without elaborating.

Freedom of speech activists have regarded the draft law with suspicion.

''Adopting a law on crisis situations is not a bad thing in itself, but it is unacceptable to turn such a law into an instrument of censorship,'' press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement last week.

Reuters SHR GC1448

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