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New laws tighten grip on media, technology

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Beijing today attempted to defend sweeping new powers which gag foreign media and bar citizens from subscribing to news from abroad. The laws were published Sunday and went into effect immediately.

The government says its new rules are designed to "promote the dissemination of news and information in a sound and orderly manner".

As well as explicitly banning direct access to foreign news from within China, incoming news will be filtered and censored by Communist Party news and propaganda bureau Xinhua.

"Measures for administering the dissemination of news and information in China by foreign news agencies" also override previous dispensations aimed at business news, granting Xinhua a monopoly on a lucrative and burgeoning market.

Media rights campaigner Reporters Without Borders said: "It is outrageous that Xinhua, the Communist Party mouthpiece, should claim full powers over news agencies. It also poses a threat to news agency journalists, who play a key role in the circulation of news in China.

"Xinhua is establishing itself as a predator of both free enterprise and freedom of information."

The measures appoint Xinhuu as enforcer. It will have powers to give warnings, demand changes within a prescribed time limit, suspend release of content, and withdraw rights to release information in China.

Speaking to reporters today, government Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "China uses the law to protect the interest of its citizens and foreign journalists."

Stories and photographs which Xinhau believes "undermine China's national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity" or "endanger China's national security, reputation and interests" are top of the list of forbidden information.

Beijing has ensured news in the technological powerhouses of Hong Hong and Taiwan are covered. Human Rights in China executive director Sharon Hom said: "Not only the international press community but also IT companies should be very alarmed by these measures."

Xinhua's statement detailing the regulations is here. ®

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