Tuesday 15 November 2011

China crackdown on 'fake news'


BEIJING: Just days after issuing stringent new laws governing journalists, China's censors yesterday further tightened their controls to target 'fake journalists and news' and 'illegal media outlets'.

The move is the latest in a slew of steps aimed at controlling online rumours and diluting the influence of the nation's rapidly growing microblogs.

The General Administration of Press and Publication (Gapp) - China's publishing body - said in a statement that 'fake newspapers and periodicals, media outlets, journalists and news' had repeatedly emerged in the country. This has 'severely disturbed the press and publication order and affected social harmony and stability', Gapp said, adding it had launched a nationwide crackdown that would last until the end of the year.

Targets include unfounded news reports and 'fake' journalists - such as website employees reporting without proper media credentials, it said.

Last week, Gapp issued orders to bar reporters from directly including unverified information from the Internet or cellphone messages in news articles.

False reports must be followed by corrections and apologies, it said, and violators may be barred from working in media for five years, and serious infractions may lead to criminal charges.

Beijing appears increasingly concerned about fast-spreading rumours of corruption or abuse of authority by government officials, a frequent topic on the Weibo, Twitter-like microblogs.

Last weekend, top Communist Party officials called in senior executives of more than three dozen Internet, telecommunications and technology companies for a talk. State media said they were exhorted to develop 'healthy Internet culture'.

GAPP has also ordered media organisations to tighten their censorship of news sources and content to "resolutely prevent the emergence of fake news".

The Chinese government operates a large censorship system in traditional media and on the Internet that blocks information it deems sensitive, and the growing popularity of social networking sites has alarmed Beijing.

Authorities have blamed many bouts of unrest on rumours generated online, which were then reported by traditional media.

In September, for instance, hundreds of protesters attacked a police station in southern China and ransacked vehicles, leaving dozens injured in an incident partly blamed on rumours that police officers had killed a child.

That same month, the head of Internet giant Sina said the company, the owner of China's most popular Twitter-like microblogging service, had set up "rumour-curbing teams", apparently in response to government pressure.

The government also said in October that police had begun to detain and punish people for spreading rumours online.

And at a secretive annual meeting in Beijing last month, the country's Communist Party chiefs agreed on directives that included stricter control of social networking sites and a crackdown on "vulgar" material on the web.

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