Better not have a “sudden event” in China. Or rather, you can have one, but don’t tell anyone about it.
What’s a “sudden event”?
While state media did not offer a definition of “sudden events,” in the past they have included natural disasters, major accidents, public health or social safety incidents. (New York Times; h/t Easy Hiker)
What will happen to you if you tell?
Chinese media outlets will be fined up to $12,500 each time they report on “sudden events” without prior authorization from government officials, according to a draft law under review by the Communist Party-controlled legislature.
The law, revealed today in most state-run newspapers, would give government officials a powerful new tool to restrict coverage of mass outbreaks of disease, riots, strikes, accidents and other events that the authorities prefer to keep secret. Officials in charge of propaganda already exercise considerable sway over the Chinese media, but their power tends to be informal, not codified in law.
Although more than 100 million Chinese have access to the Internet and hundreds of commercially driven newspapers, magazines and television stations provide a much wider selection of news and information than was available in the recent past. As a result, Chinese authorities have also sought fresh ways to curtail reporting on topics and events they consider harmful to social and political stability.
Editors and journalists say they receive constant bulletins from the Propaganda Department forbidding reporting on an ever-expanding list of taboo topics, including “sudden events.” But a few leading newspapers and magazines occasionally defy such informal edicts. They may find it more costly to ignore the rules if they risked being assessed financial penalties.
The draft, under consideration by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, was described in outline by newspapers today.
It says that newspapers, magazines, news Web sites and television stations should face fines ranging from $6,250 to $12,500 each time they publish information about a sudden event “without authorization” or publish “fake news” about such events. (NYT)
So it’s OK to have a massive benzene spill, a coal mine accident (not that you could have one in China, of course) or a disease outbreak (SARS? bird flu?) as long as you don’t tell anyone it happened. Diagnoses of bird flu in humans are already regarded as “state secrets.” This proposed law will give a great deal of authority to local officials (often corrupt), who frequently try to cover up poultry outbreaks of avian influenza (see this post).
It’s hard to restrict information in the age of the internet. But China is making the effort. Too bad their energies aren’t directed towards more useful ends.
This is a government without shame and as a consequence will receive no honor or respect. Not that they seem to care.