Media crackdown announced before Communist Party meet

By Scott McDonald, BEIJING, AP

China on Wednesday announced a wide-ranging crackdown on “false news” and illegal publications ahead of the most important meeting of the Communist Party in five years.

The announcement in the People’s Daily, the party’s main mouthpiece, and on a central government Web site said the campaign running through the middle of October will also be aimed at bogus journalists and reporters who take bribes to produce positive stories and suppress negative news.

“The campaign aims to clamp down on illegal news coverage and eliminate any spread of false news,” Liu Binjie, the director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, was quoted as saying.

The campaign is “a concrete action to create a healthy and harmonious environment for a successful 17th Party Congress,” the government Web site said.

The campaign runs until Oct. 15. No date has been announced for the ruling Communist Party’s once-every-five-year congress, but it is expected to be held anytime from the middle of October.

It also comes as China faces increased media attention ahead of the Beijing Olympics, which start in just under one year.

The congress will set the agenda for the party and country for the next five years, and will likely include a reshuffling of some top leaders.

It will also mark a renewal of party leader Hu Jintao’s five-year tenure.

The party tries to tightly control the media in China and is sensitive to any criticism of its grip on power or questions about its top leaders.

“The work will focus on newspapers and magazines illegally published in China using overseas registration … newspapers and magazines imported from overseas without authorization, illegal foreign language newspapers and magazines aimed at foreigners living in China, illegal political newspapers and magazines that fabricate political rumors … and illegal military newspapers and magazines that leak state secrets,” Liu was quoted as saying.

Liu also said there would be a clampdown on reporters who take bribes or extort money from local companies in return for favorable news coverage. Being paid to report positive news, taking money to not report negative news and making up stories are common in China.

Fake stories cause an “adverse social impact and damage the country’s image and the interests of the masses,” the government Web site said.

Earlier this week, a Beijing court sentenced a reporter to a year in jail for faking a television story about cardboard-filled meat buns, in a case that drew widespread attention to the country’s poor food safety record.