A top official with China’s Supreme People’s Court outlined yesterday a series of “forbidden areas” for China’s domestic media in reporting on legal cases in China. This latest news came as foreign media tried to make sense of a September 10 announcement that foreign newswires would not be permitted to offer news content directly to end users in China, and work out its possible impact on domestic media.
The court announcement, delivered by Supreme People’s Court vice-director Cao Jianming (曹建明), said news reports on the courts in China would have to “strictly comply” with propaganda discipline and the internal discipline rules of the courts. Cao provided a list of “forbidden areas” for news reporters, with “state secrets” and “commercial secrets” topping the list. Ending the list was an ambiguous rule that said media could not report “other information the leaders of the court determined could not be released”. [AP coverage here].
Many respondents on Internet forums saw the news as a step back in progress toward a more transparent court system in China. “In the last few years, the biggest sign of progress in law has been the opening up of trials,” wrote one respondent to the news at Sina.com, a popular Chinese Web portal. “Aside from a few cases dealing with national security and the rights of special groups, all cases should be heard openly. Open trials and verdicts allow citizens to see how the laws and constitution created and obeyed by them are being put into practice. This is an extremely important principle. For the Supreme People’s Court to put out this kind of decision which can’t even look the people eye to eye, it’s really disgusting, it’s a major step back”.
“Everyone knows about corruption in the courts. Great! Now the media can’t even look into it”, wrote another.
Domestic media have so far not commented directly on the court’s announcement, but openness of information has been a hot-button topic for media this year. When officials in June announced new regulations for coverage of emergency events which promised fines for media “making bold” to report against regulations by local authorities, Chinese newspapers and magazines attacked the move, arguing for a more direct role for the media in the handling of emergency situations The debate in the media over openness and accuracy in reporting of disasters has continued this month.
[Posted by David Bandurski, September 13, 2006, 5:35pm]