HomeOppression and Human RightsChina's Emergency Law Simply a Cover for Media Control

China’s Emergency Law Simply a Cover for Media Control

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China is on the verge of amending its Emergency Response Law, a move that has raised eyebrows among media analysts and experts, hinting at the possibility of tighter control over the press, particularly in reporting disasters and accidents. This legislative change, proposed by China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), focuses on a critical aspect: the prohibition of the fabrication or spreading of false information about emergencies.

Under the draft amendment, which revises the original law enacted in 2007, there is an explicit stipulation that “no institution or individual shall fabricate or spread false information about emergencies on purpose.” This amendment also introduces the concept of a “news interviewing and reporting system,” although the draft remains ambiguous about the specifics of this system. This lack of clarity has sparked concerns among journalists and media professionals about the potential implications for press freedom.

Imagine the prosecutions that would have taken place during the Covid emergency if any of the Chinese media decided to repeat claims from the rest of the world that Covid originated from a lab in Wutan? This will force all of the Chinese media to follow exactly the official line of the Chinese Communist Party – no matter the actual truth.

The draft further mandates the government to provide timely information about emergencies, including its decisions, orders, and measures. However, it also strictly forbids any institution or individual from spreading false information about these situations, requiring the government to address any misinformation that could affect societal stability – and of since the government provides the “truth” nothing else can be provided.

Regarding news coverage of emergencies, the draft asserts that it should be “timely, accurate, objective, and impartial.” The media are also tasked with publicizing how to respond to emergencies and monitoring violations of the law. Yet, the amendment does not detail the penalties for publishing false information nor does it clearly define what constitutes publishing false information “on purpose.”

The State Council, China’s cabinet, is vested with the power to define emergencies and determine the severity of an accident or disaster. This centralization of authority has raised questions about the potential for increased government oversight and control over the media.

Recent incidents underscore these concerns. For instance, after a major fire at a Beijing hospital, there was a notable delay in media coverage and severe restrictions on social media discussions. Another incident involved the assault of a reporter investigating an accident in Guizhou by plain-clothes police, highlighting the existing challenges faced by journalists in China.

These proposed changes in the law have led experts to believe that this modification is merely to help the Chinese government exert control over the media. The vagueness of the terms around “false information” and the establishment of a new reporting system could provide a legal framework for the government to restrict press coverage under the guise of preventing misinformation. Zhan Jiang, a retired professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, pointed out that the provisions on false information are too vague and could restrict journalists’ work. He emphasized that while the draft guarantees the government’s right to release information, it should also ensure the media’s right to interview and publish information.

Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, expressed a similar view, suggesting that the impact of the law would depend on its implementation. He noted that the regulation also mentions the need for “timely” reporting and “monitoring” of public opinion, indicating that its practical application will be crucial.

In addition to media-related provisions, the draft amendment proposes the government’s authority to requisition personal property for emergency supplies and restrict people’s movements during emergencies. It also advocates the use of big data and artificial intelligence in emergency responses.

NPC spokesman Zang Tiewei stated that the press release regulations are intended to clarify the contents and methods of publishing, adding that the law would serve as a foundation for China’s response to emergencies.

This is not an unusual action by China, to adjust the laws to make them most convenient to maintain absolute control over any potential rogue element. The goal was to point this out as yet another example of why we prefer the U.S. over China.

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