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Law will guard journalists' right to know
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Top government officials in Shenzhen could face dismissal from their posts if they do not respond to journalists and release details about city business to the media, according to a new regulation that takes effect Dec 1.

The regulation - the first of its kind among mainland cities - mandates that government spokesmen be accountable to the media. This will protect the legal rights of journalists to have access to government officials and help guarantee citizens' right to information, government press officials said.

"We are determined to change the random, passive and disorderly situation surrounding government press releases. Shenzhen's regulation will provide a meaningful experiment for this issue in China," Su Huijun, director of the government press office, said at a press conference yesterday.

Under the new regulation, the top official of each government agency will be accountable for press releases and dissemination of information to the media. The official may designate a spokesman, usually a deputy chief, and set up a spokesman's office to handle routine press issues.

The government press office will evaluate the performance of these press officials. Those who fail to provide timely,

accurate and proper information to the media will face punishments ranging from public criticism to dismissal from their post.

The regulation requires that government agencies publicize the city's approved documents within seven working days and release information about emergencies within two hours after the launch of emergency response.

To better serve journalists, the government press office will create a 24-hour hotline to accept media inquiries and interview requests, Su said. Press officials will also create and manage a special line to collect complaints from the media. These will be in place by the end of this year.

"We will create a fair environment for all the journalists, whether they work for domestic or overseas press organizations," said Xuan Zhuxi, deputy director of Shenzhen publicity department.

Many journalists applauded the new regulation but some argued that more should be done to improve the attitude of officials toward the media.

"It will be more convenient to get the right person with an improvement of the spokesman system. But the regulation doesn't specify that the spokesman or his office must respond to an issue, which would be the real help for us journalists," said Li Qiang, a reporter at a national radio station.

(China Daily September 16, 2009)

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