- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - Overseas rights groups expressed concern Thursday about China’s tightening controls on its domestic media, including the creation of a journalist blacklist and the recent detention of two Tibetan journalists.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the blacklist, announced last month, increased the risk that reporters will be punished for “independent reporting on subjects the government deems sensitive.”

The Tibetans, an online writer and a filmmaker, were reportedly jailed separately in China’s western Gansu province over the past few weeks but it is not clear what charges, if any, they face.

China’s domestic reporters are strictly monitored and censored. Sensitive or negative issues are often ignored, and journalists have been imprisoned for aggressive reporting on corruption in the government or private sector.

China relaxed some restrictions on foreign media during the Olympic Games last summer, but has since backtracked.

Li Dongdong, deputy director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, was quoted last month as saying the blacklist was needed to “resolutely prevent fake reporting.”

There have been cases of journalists, and sometimes people posing as reporters, demanding bribes in return for not reporting negative news, such as coal mine accidents. Accredited journalists also routinely accept cash or guaranteed advertising in return for glowing coverage.

On Thursday, the China Daily newspaper reported that a freelance writer in southern China was banned for life from working as a journalist after he allegedly made up a story about a standoff between Chinese warships and an Indian submarine. Tong Qizhi’s story appeared in Sichuan province’s West China City Daily on Jan. 18 and was later widely reported by other media, it said.

Human Rights Watch said fake reporting was a “widespread” problem in China but added that it was concerned that the government has not clearly defined what constitutes illegal reporting.

“Chinese journalists, who are already subject to an arsenal of vaguely worded and arbitrarily invoked laws such as those against ‘spreading rumors,’ are now at even greater risk of official reprisals if they carry out independent reporting on subjects the government deems sensitive,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists, also based in New York, called on China to release the two Tibetan journalists or charge them with an offense.

The arrests are “a disturbing indication that heavy punitive measures await Tibetans who publicize their version of life under Chinese rule,” it said.

The group said online writer Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang was arrested Feb. 26 and filmmaker Jigme Gyatso was reportedly arrested early this month, but that it has not confirmed the exact date.

Both were detained by Gannan prefecture’s Public Security Bureau in southern Gansu, but the reasons for the arrests were unclear, the group said.

The deputy director of the Gannan Public Security Bureau, who would only give his surname, Xu, said he had no idea about the detentions, and referred calls to the local Communist Party, where the phone rang unanswered.

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