CHRD: China Tightens Grip on Media in Effort to Control Damage from Tainted Milk Scandal

来源:Chinese Human Rights Defenders
(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, September 29, 2008) �China has tightened its grip over media freedom to contain rising nationwide outrage at tainted milk products. Since the scandal came to light on September 11, CHRD has documented a series of measures taken by the government to block reporting on the scandal. CHRD has also learnt that evidence of tainted milk was not reported when it first appeared in early July because the media was told to stay clear of "negative" reporting ahead of the Olympics.

Since the scandal was exposed on September 11, there has been official censorship of the issue. Authorities have issued various guidelines to the media, such as ordering the media to report the scandal in less prominent sections of the publication; to highlight the attention paid to the issue by top officials; to use only articles of Xinhua, the official news agency, when reporting on the milk scandal and to focus on positive news in general. Blogs and online articles about the issue have been deleted and blocked on popular websites such as Sina, Sohu and NetEase.

Below are some examples of media censorship:

Since September 11, Hebei Daily, Zawen Bao and other newspapers in Hebei Province, where one of the producers of tainted milk, Sanlu Group, is based, have been barred from publishing articles on the scandal except those censored by Xinhua and the Hebei Provincial Propaganda Department.     
On September 12 and 13, the CCP Propaganda Department ordered all Chinese media to use only Xinhua articles when reporting on the issue.
On September 13, Southern Weekend, a popular newspaper, refused to publish an article by one of its journalist, He Feng (禾风), entitled "Difficult Road: Holding Accountable Those Responsible for Infants with Kidney Stones".
On September 22, at the start of the well-known Phoenix TV program, "Wentai Paian", the host, Dou Wentou (窦文涛), said he was "forced to cancel" the discussion topic he had planned, "problematic milk powder", because it was "untimely".
On September 24, Qi Yanchen (綦彦臣), a historian and writer from Potou County, Cangzhou City, Hebei Province, was summoned by police from the National Security Unit of the local Public Security Bureau (PSB). Police told Yan that he "courted disaster" in an interview with Radio Free Asia, in which he expressed critical views of the government's role in the milk scandal. 

Since the news about the tainted milk broke, the Chinese government has denied allegations of an official cover-up of the milk scandal during the Olympics. There is some evidence to the contrary. For example, in July, He Feng, the journalist at Nanfang Weekend, conducted an investigation into reports of a rising number of infants who had developed kidney stones in Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces. Doctors at the hospitals in these provinces told He that they were suspicious of Sanlu's milk powder. He's article was not published, due to a general media ban on negative news in order to maintain stability ahead of the upcoming Games.

Contamination of food products can occur in any country. However, in China, media censorship has delayed reports of tainted food from being brought to the public's attention. Even after the scandal became public knowledge, further media censorship has prevented serious scrutiny of the deep-seated problems in the system that have resulted in frequent breaches of food safety and threats to public health. The government's gag order on the media has the effect of shielding those responsible for the tainted milk from accountability. Violation of freedom of expression has serious consequences. It thwarts timely remedies and can cost lives as well as increasing the likelihood of similar tragedies in the future.

CHRD calls on the Chinese government to:

cease immediately all media censorship and to respect the right to freedom of expression, a right guaranteed in Articles 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which China has signed as well as Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution.

hold accountable those government organs and officials responsible for media censorship
allow credible experts and members of civil society to conduct independent and thorough investigations into the tainted milk scandal.

provide free nationwide physical examinations to infants to ensure that all those affected by the toxic dairy products receive free and adequate treatment as well as appropriate compensation.

CHRD also calls on the international community, especially the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization and countries with strong trade ties with the Chinese government, to make promotion of human rights in China a priority. In light of the tainted milk scandal, the recent toxic toy and toothpaste scandals, and the SARS and the HIV-AIDS tainted blood-collection cover-ups before them, it is clear that countries without basic human rights safeguards are at higher risk of public health disasters. Given that China is a major exporter, it is in the direct interest of the international community to promote human rights in China that would foster greater oversight of health and safety issues.

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