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Weekly suspended, its editorial staff fired over earthquake coverage; government issues propaganda directives to media

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Expresses Alarm at China's Assertion of Control Over Media Coverage

The IFJ is concerned to learn that Chinese authorities have suspended publication of a magazine and forced the dismissal of its editorial staff over coverage of last week's earthquake in Sichuan province.

New Travel Weekly, published in Chongqing, was reportedly suspended from publishing on May 20 after failing to carry mourning messages in the manner laid out in propaganda directives. In its issue dated May 19, the magazine instead published photos of models with red ink on their bodies standing in front of sites of destruction, under the title "Disaster Areas Reborn".

According to local reports, the Publisher, Editor-in-Chief and Deputy Editor of the magazine have all been dismissed, and the publication has been suspended indefinitely.

An official from the Chongqing Publication Department, a division of Chongqing Municipal Government, told the IFJ that, although the motives of the magazine may have been "honourable", their divergence from the official directives constituted an "extremely evil social influence". Local publication departments are known to follow the directives of the central government.

After an initial period of unusually free reporting, the Central Publicity Department, the Chinese government propaganda unit, last weekend sought to reassert control over coverage of the earthquake that struck on May 12. According to official news agency Xinhua, propaganda directives ordered media to maintain a focus on positive stories of rescue and reconstruction.

Chinese media and the entertainment industry generally observed a three-day official mourning period from May 19 to 21.

"For press freedom to flourish in any free society, the media must not be answerable to a government propaganda unit," said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

"While coverage of the earthquake initially seemed to fulfill China's promises of a freer media, these latest cases of intervention by central authorities indicate there is still a long way to go."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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