China targets 'false', internet-led news

Beijing : China has ordered journalists to train in how to avoid “false news” and has urged state media to beware of online “manipulation” of news, reports said Monday.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said the six-month training to “eradicate false news, enhance social responsibility and strengthen the professional ethics of journalism” would effectively teach them self-censorship.

“In short, to make journalists themselves actors in censorship,” Reporters Without Borders said of the training that state media said began in November.

People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s official newspaper, Sunday published a commentary urging Chinese media to “show greater responsibility in guarding against manipulation of public issues on the internet”.

Zhai Huisheng, head of the official Chinese Journalists’ Association, publicized the training drive last week, saying some media “lack political sensitivity”.

The government was forced to refute about 20 reports on major issues related to China’s “national situation and people’s lives” in the last three months, Zhai was quoted as saying.

Reporters Without Borders said the training drive reflected an “escalation in the control of information” after the government’s Propaganda Department earlier announced 10 directives on the media for 2011.

It condemned the “abusive use of the notion of ‘false news’, which justifies a large number of cases of maltreatment on the part of the authorities in respect of defenders of free expression”.

The group cited this month’s sacking of respected investigative journalists Long Can and Chang Ping from two newspapers as evidence of the government’s tightening control over state media.

The People’s Daily commentary said the media should “resist the temptations of sensationalism in the face of misleading internet postings”, citing the case of Qian Yunhui, a popular land-rights activist who died last month.

Many online reports questioned police assertions that Qian was accidentally run over by a truck, claiming that local thugs employed by developers, or even police officers, could have thrown him under the vehicle.

The trial of the driver accused of killing Qian is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

“Unquestionably, the internet was a new channel for building democracy with Chinese characteristics and satisfying the public’s rights to know, to express, to participate and to supervise,” the commentary said.

But it said internet users should be “wary of information from unauthorized sources, or one-sided opinions” while state media should “bear greater responsibility in guarding against public opinion viruses”.

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