An Appeal to the 17th Party Congress to Pass a Press and Publication Law – Zan Aizong

Hangzhou-based journalist and blogger Zan Aizong seizes on the arrival of the 17th CPC National Congress, now underway in Beijing, to issue a call for a law guaranteeing journalists’ rights. Translated by CDT (with thanks to Global Voices for pointing out the link):

It’s up to the nation to do what news organizations cannot: A call on the 17th National Congress to pass the “Press and Publication Law”

The establishment of a Press Law is an extremely urgent matter. Roads and bridges the quality of soy pulp, unsafe food, mine accidents, wave after wave of high-level corruption, the beating of journalists, chaos in the publications market, fake news appalling problems like these seem to occur on a daily basis. Our society requires order, and so it urgently requires a Press and Publication Law.

Under a Press and Publication Law, whatever the government can’t do, whatever the nation itself is powerless to handle, will fall to the press as the representative of public opinion. True mass media monitors and limits the power of government. At the same time, it safeguards, standardizes and prevents the abuse of the right to a free press.

It’s obvious the will of the people requires the safeguard of a legally established platform. This platform must be responsible to the public will and must have the protection of law.

Because of this, I appeal for the immediate propagation of a Chinese Press and Publication Law. The promotion of a Press and Publication Law cannot be accomplished by news organizations. What news organizations cannot do must be done by the government. Whatever the government cannot do, it is up to the nation to accomplish.

Not long ago, the collapse of the Tuojiang Bridge in Hunan Province’s Fenghuang County caused the confirmed deaths of 64 people. Opening ceremonies for this 12 million yuan bridge, an important construction project for Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture, were scheduled for the end of August. A month before, the Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture government confirmed the bridge’s main buttresses had already shown signs of sinking. If our journalists had been able to publicize the news of the sinkage through the Internet and other media in a timely manner, those 64 might have been saved.

Transportation departments have revealed there are nearly 6300 dangerous bridges in China. If our news media could freely and responsibly expose those dangers, who knows how many people might be saved, how many scandals might be revealed, how much loss might be avoided, how much more stable society might be?

Unfortunately, on August 18th, when reporters from several domestic news outlets went to look into the Fenghuang “8.13” incident, a number of them, including a reporter for the People’s Daily, were beaten. Among them, three were seriously injured: Wang Weijian of People’s Daily, Hong Kefei of China Youth Daily, and Long Zhi from Southern Metropolis Daily. Wei Liming from Economic Observer and a reporter from Xinhua’s Oriental Outlook were also attacked. A Caijing reporter confirmed with the person in charge at Fenghua County 110 that the people who attacked the journalists came from the county government. One of them was a county official. They saw the reporters’ investigations as “illegal and against regulations” (ËøùÊ≥ïËøùËßÑ )

Even worse, after the “8.13” incident occurred, the Fenghuang county government sent out hundreds of people, beyond those already conducting rescue work and talking to families. The collapse site, hospital, morgue, incident response office and other places each had police and other government staff guarding them. Arriving later at the police department, Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture Party Standing Committee member and Publicity Department director Zhou Xiaomao apologized to the reporters from People’s Daily and Xinhua on behalf of the local government for the “unhappiness” they encountered, then turned to the other reporters with a threat: “According to Central Publicity Department rules, the rest of you are not allowed to conduct interviews here and are deemed to be in violation of regulations.” For investigative reporters, vileness like this is not uncommon. When in Xinchang County, Zhejiang to investigate pollution-related protests of pharmaceutical factories, I was threatened by the director of the Xinchang County Information Office. He told me: “Since you came to Xinchang without contacting the Publicity Department, your safety cannot be guaranteed.” These words and the Fenghuang County Publicity Department director’s threat, “No guarantees for the bodily safety of people conducting illegal interviews,” are two sets of lyrics for the same song”both odious, and both seriously damaging to the images of the Party Committee and the Publicity Department.

A few years ago, I published an essay in Hong Kong’s Mingpao Monthly calling for the establishment of a press law, in which I described “reporters’ blood-splattered conscience” (ËÆ∞ËÄÖÁöÑËâØÁü•Ë°ÄÊ≥™ÊñëÊñë) in reference to the beating of mainland journalists. Years later, the situation is even worse. At present, China has a total of 560 TV and radio stations, 1930 print publications, and 750,000 people employed in the news business (150,000 of these are accredited journalists, most of the rest are temporary workers). An enormous information market has emerged, yet it has neither legal standards nor rights protections, nor a rational management system. Journalists are not government employees. Without a law to rely on, how can they be managed well? Lawyers, doctors, teachers, judges, police, and government office workers all have laws to protect them. When will journalists finally have a Press and Publication Law and a Journalists Rights Law to protect their legal rights and interests?

Today’s grim situation indicates the time for a press law has already arrived.

The ruling party’s 15th Central Committee report long ago suggested China should “unite internal Party supervision, legal supervision and supervision by the masses in order to realize public oversight.” Editor-in-chief of Caijing Hu Shuli (ËÉ°ËàíÁ´ã ) has also openly called for guarantees of a reporter’s right to conduct interviews, right to gather information, and right to personal safety. Believing in the bestowal of basic rights by law, Caijing has also openly called for “the timely establishment of a Press and Publications Law,” because to protect journalists’ rights is to protect the society itself and every citizen in it.

…In this “news economy” and “Internet economy” era, the [Chinese] media and Internet, limited though as their roles are, have already become an indispensable force for the promotion of social justice. The national legislature should advance the establishment of a Press and Publications Law and promote constant revision of the law in order to create a legally protected “fourth estate” capable of limiting public power and preventing the abuse of press freedom for private benefit.

With a fourth estate, the national power structure will inevitably earn [public] respect and trust while being subject to necessary supervision and restrictions. Social order will begin to improve and people will have greater confidence in it. I believe only if everyone is able to “know the truth and live in the truth””that is, only when this country’s faithful people can take on more responsibility and be better citizens”will the country have hope. Only in this way will China have a beautiful future.

I call for the early adoption of the first “Press and Publications Law” of the People’s Republic of China!

Zan Aizong

Chinese citizen, journalist

October 2007, Hangzhou, Zhejiang

Zan, a recently converted Christian, was detained last year after posting criticisms of a church demolition in Hangzhou.

See also:

‚Ä¢ Zan’s original post.

‚Ä¢ ESWN’s coverage of the Fenghuang bridge beatings.