Chinese authorities have amended the ban on media
reporting of "sudden incidents" in the draft "Law on Responding to Sudden
Incidents" currently under consideration by the National People’s Congress for
the second time. The first version of
the proposed law had incited significant public and media criticism in 2006 for
its ban on media outlets "independently issuing information" related to "sudden
incidents,"such as natural disasters, public health emergencies, and social
The new draft law removes the ban on "independently issuing information" regarding sudden incidents, and replaces it with a ban on the dissemination of "false information" regarding sudden incidents, according to a June 24 Xinhua article. This may reflect an effort by Chinese officials to respond to public opposition regarding the original draft language, and some recognition of the positive role that independent media reporting can play in exposing severe governance abuses by local officials. But it also reflects the desire of Chinese central officials to maintain checks over media reporting on sensitive public issues.
The language of the new draft law provides that "no work unit or individual should manufacture and disseminate false information related to sudden incidents or the work of responding to them, nor should they knowingly disseminate false information regarding sudden incidents or the work of responding to them," according to the Xinhua report. In cases where such reporting results in "serious consequences,"the operating license of the violator is to be suspended (for media outlets) and administrative sanctions applied (for relevant government officials). The earlier version of the draft law provided that media which "independently issued information related to the handling or development of sudden incidents, or which reported falsely" would be subject to sanctions, according to a June 25 Beijing News article.
Other amendments to the draft law suggest that central authorities are interested in harnessing the media as a tool to expose local governance problems. The new draft law removes the requirement of the older version that local government authorities responding to "sudden incidents" should also undertake the "management of relevant media reporting," according to the Xinhua article. The draft law would punish local authorities who cover up or fail to report sudden incidents to central authorities, according to a June 25 Xinhua article reposted on the website of the Chinese central government's website. Chinese central authorities have been repeatedly shaken in recent years by scandals in which local Party officials have used their extensive controls over the local media and government to conceal widespread corruption and abuse.
Editorials in Chinese state media outlets and
independent-leaning publications have hailed the revisions to the draft law as
an advance for media freedom in China, according to a June 26 post (and English
language translations of relevant editorials) by the China Media Project. But it is unclear to what extent the revised draft law,
even if passed, would actually affect the extensive controls that Chinese Party authorities exercise over the Chinese press.