The Chinese government is reviewing a draft law that proposes thousands of dollars in fines for media outlets that report on disasters and social unrest without permission. Critics say the law, if passed, would further restrict the Chinese media, and could threaten public health and safety.
Chinese newspapers Monday said the proposed law would mean media reporting on "sudden incidents" affecting "social safety," without government authorization, or falsely, could be fined up to $12,000.
Vincent Brossel, the head of the Asia Pacific Desk at the press freedom watchdog organization, Reporters Without Borders, is concerned the law will encourage more self-censorship on issues of public concern.
"…This new draft is exactly the contrary of what the Chinese authorities are saying on the international conferences," said Brossel. "They all say they want to promote transparency. But, with this new draft they are just doing the contrary."
Brossel says Chinese media were allowed to report more freely on health and safety incidents after slow reporting helped the disease SARS to spread in 2003.
"Censorship is a direct impact on the health of the citizen, on the health crisis," he continued. "And, it's really a pity that, again, they are trying to destroy all the benefits of the SARS crisis."
China was widely criticized for covering up cases of SARS, and not releasing information quickly. SARS eventually killed around 800 people worldwide, including 349 in China.
The Chinese government has also been criticized for covering up industrial accidents. In November, local officials waited days before reporting a toxic spill in the northeastern Songhua River, which resulted in water supplies to millions being cut off for nearly a week.
China allows almost no reporting on demonstrations and clashes between local people and public security officials, even though they are becoming more common. Last year China had around 84,000 so-called "mass incidents" according to official figures, but very few were reported in Chinese media.