China's National People's Congress is considering a draft law that proposes thousands of dollars in fines on media outlets if they report on disasters and social unrest without prior government approval. While Chinese officials assert the government must control such reporting to prevent public panic during a crisis, such a policy will severely inhibit the timely reporting of health and safety information vital to both Chinese citizens and the international community.
China's failure to report its outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, in 2003 was widely criticized for creating unnecessary risks of transmission on the mainland an internationally. Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a Chinese army physician, risked his career by defying a ban on media coverage to bring China's SARS outbreak to light. While China has since made progress in transparency and cooperation on pandemic disease, it also put Dr. Jiang under house arrest following his revelation. This new law would put others like Dr. Jiang at great risk.
President Bush has underscored the need for nations to share information about pandemic disease outbreaks and other threats to international safety and security immediately. "By requiring transparency," the President said "we can respond more rapidly to dangerous outbreaks."
A November 2005 industrial accident resulted in the release of approximately one hundred tons of highly toxic chemicals into the Songhua River, which flows from China into Russia. According to China’s own press reports, local officials suppressed and delayed for days reporting of the chemical spill while the spill flowed downriver, putting the health of millions to risk.
In 2005, the Chinese government reported eighty-four thousand so-called "mass incidents had occurred, but allowed reporting on very few of these incidents in China's media. One particularly egregious case in Dongzhou [dong-zhoo], a village in Guangdong Province, involved a protest over land taken from villagers to build a wind-power plant, which in turn caused environmental damage to fishing grounds. The protest reportedly ended with a number of protestors dead from police gunfire, but the Chinese Government blocked any Chinese media reporting on the incident.
By attempting to suppress information about such incidents in which citizens seek redress of their grievances and peacefully express political views, China is sowing seeds of resentment among its own people that will lead to instability. As President George W. Bush has said, "By meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China's leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous and confident nation."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.