China’s annual parliament to consider press law

National People’s Congress legislation would be the first to regulate all media outlets

China's annual parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), is considering introducing the country's first press law. The law would regulate all media outlets, including online news services, a senior Communist Party official said.

"New media outlets have rapidly expanded their influence by combining eye-catching stories with relatively more independence, while traditional media outlets continue to be managed under strict rules," Liu Binjie, a deputy to the NPC and former director of the press watchdog formerly known as the General Administration of Press and Publication, was quoted as saying in the Beijing Times.

“A law could help end unbalanced development and regulations,” Mr Liu said.

Song Jianwu, dean of the school of journalism and media at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times newspaper that fast-growing new media has created an urgent need for a new press law.

“Current regulations and administrative measures might work well in regulating traditional media as they were State-owned entities. But those measures cannot work in managing new media outlets, as many of them are private-owned and market-driven,” Mr Song said.

Crackdown concerns

There will be some concerns that the law could lead to a crackdown on dissenting journalists. Last week, the Communist Party marked the introduction of the country's first draft law on domestic violence at the NPC by detaining feminist activists who campaigned for the introduction of those rules, and since president Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012, journalists have been kept on a tight leash.

However, Mr Song said he was not worried that a law may limit press freedom.

“The establishment of any laws in China will balance duties and rights. Meanwhile, legislators’ ability to draft laws is improving. A legal framework would benefit the industry’s development.”

Cui Baoguo, director of the centre of media management and economic studies at Tsinghua University, said there were problems with online media outlets publishing unverified information.

“Besides news reporting, the press law should regulate online information dissemination in general,” Mr Cui said.

Foreign policy

Delegates at the NPC annual parliament turned their attention to foreign policy this week, with minister for foreign affairs Wang Yi talking of "Belt and Road" initiatives.

Mr Wang said China would “further enhance communication with other countries, expand the convergence of shared interests and explore possible areas for further win-win cooperation.”

Priorities will be promoting connectivity, building overland economic corridors and the pillars of maritime cooperation.

The NPC has also been discussing ways of tightening anti-corruption rules, but delegates are forbidden from mentioning certain subjects, including party and state affairs, topics banned by state laws, suggestions about personnel arrangements and the names of whistleblowers.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing