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Emergency Response Law 'Will Ensure Accurate Info'
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The proposed new law on dealing with emergencies is not designed to prevent the truth being revealed, but to allow the timely release of accurate information, said a senior official yesterday.

Under the law media outlets could face fines of up to 100,000 yuan (US$12,500) if they "report the development and handling of emergencies without authorization."

But Wang Yongqing, vice-minister of the State Council's Legislative Affairs Office, yesterday said that under the new law, it was local governments that will shoulder responsibility for increasing transparency in the reporting of emerging disasters.

Wang said governments should take responsibility because they have access to the most information about response plans.

"The key lies in imposing a heavier obligation on the government and urging it to release accurate and timely information, and provide a satisfactory service for news media covering emergencies," he said.

Wang is the major official responsible for drafting the Law on Response to Contingencies, which was submitted to the law-making Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) for review last week.

He made the remarks yesterday at a news briefing organized by the State Council's Information Office to allay concerns on an article threatening fines for news outlets that report emergencies without authorization.

The 57th article stipulates "news media violating certain rules to report the development and handling of emergencies without authorization, or releasing fraudulent reports, will be fined between 50,000 yuan (US$ 6,250) and 100,000 yuan (US$12,500), if the reports lead to serious consequences."

The draft law defines emergencies as industrial accidents, natural disasters, and health and public security crises.

In the past some regional governments have failed to report, circulate or release information about an emergency, or have even issued false reports or concealed information, said Wang.

The proposed law prods governments to release information in a "uniform, accurate and timely manner," and violation may result in administrative punishments such as "a demerit or a serious demerit" of government officials, or even removal from office.

Amendment VI of the Criminal Law, which was adopted by the NPC Standing Committee last week, allows a maximum seven-year jail sentence for officials.

"This provision will not have any adverse effect on the regular reporting of emergencies by news media. It will, on the contrary, help enhance the accuracy and authority of such information, making news media more accountable," said Wang.

He said the original intention of the legislation was to "prevent certain news media from disseminating groundless news or rumours, or reporting false information which may mislead the public and cause social panic."

Wang added that the fines are applicable "only when the circumstances are serious or any grave consequences have been caused."

During the panel's discussions last week, some lawmakers still had different views on the provision.

For example, NPC Standing Committee member He Keng disagreed with it.

He said journalism has its own rules and argued that media supervision was not strong enough in China.

Wang said the proposed law prohibits governments and officials from abusing their law enforcement powers during emergencies.

Protection of civilian's rights and restraining governments' behaviours have been the guidelines of the proposed law, according to Wang.

"This represents great progress for China's democratic development and legal construction," he noted.

Under the law, people will be compensated if their properties are damaged during government authorized emergency responses.

Wang predicted that the law may be passed by the NPC Standing Committee this year.

Under China's legislation, a law usually goes through three rounds of reviews before it is passed.

(China Daily July 4, 2006)

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