Chinese Media Highlights Licensing Scheme for Reporters

March 15, 2005

In November 2003, the Chinese government promulgated the Notice Regarding Issuance of National Uniform Journalist Accreditation. Pursuant to this notice, in January 2004, Chinese authorities began issuing a national journalist "ID Card" and maintaining a database of government-accredited journalists, as well as individuals whose journalistic credentials had expired or been revoked. The official news agency Xinhua recently published several articles (in Chinese) on the first anniversary of the Notice, and has announced that new regulations will take effect on March 1, 2005 (click "more" below to view summaries of the articles).

At the time of its launch in January 2004, Chinese authorities portrayed the central government accreditation program as a measure intended to protect journalists and the public. According to a Beijing Youth Daily piece published in January 2004: "[Another] significant change the new journalist credential cards will bring about is it will strengthen rights of journalists to investigate and report news and supervise public opinion." The Notice itself included some provisions intended to protect the public from individuals falsely claiming to be reporters. For example, Article 5(v) of the Notice reads: "Anyone being interviewed may use the 'National Journalist Accreditation Administration and Examination Network System' to verify the authenticity of a reporter's credentials."

What China's government and media have not discussed is that this accreditation system allows the government to restrict news gathering and reporting activities to those who meet government approval. Chinese authorities are trying to make China's publishing industry more profitable and competitive, both domestically and internationally, and to achieve this they have allowed some media outlets to operate with less direct editorial interference than in the past. To compensate for this loosening of direct political control, China's government has tightened legal restrictions on the media in the form of increased regulation, including regulation of journalists. Furthermore, the accreditation system is part of a larger regulatory framework that Chinese authorities are using to ensure that China's media remains under the control of the Communist Party, and that all politically sensitive news is funneled through government authorized sources.

  • Most major media outlets are controlled directly by either the government or the Party, and all news publishers are required to have a government or Party sponsor, must have government authorization to publish, and can be shut down by the government at any time without legal cause or due process.
  • Chinese authorities are touting a new government spokesperson system as an example of China's government becoming more open and transparent. However, in July 2004, the head of Shenzhen's Propaganda Department issued "5 demands" to television news anchors during a government mandated training session, including the demand that reporters must "respect the government spokesperson system." He also told them that there are separate but parallel lines of authority for issuing government statements and carrying out government administration, and reporters should not try to approach the incorrect party when trying to get information.

By imposing strict regulatory limitations on who can publish, who can speak, and who can report, Chinese authorities continue to use the law as a weapon to silence those wishing to express views contrary to the doctrines of the Chinese government and Communist Party.



Recent Xinhua Articles on the Chinese government's journalist credential program and news bureau licensing scheme: