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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Media controls for Chinese courts
Intermediate People's Court in the Beijing suburb of Fangzhuang, 15 August 2006
China says the moves will improve transparency in the courts
China has announced tighter controls governing communication between court officials and the media.

Special spokesmen would now release all information to journalists, state-run Xinhua news agency said, and leaks from court officials would be punished.

Officials would decide on releasing details of "sensitive cases", including ones involving foreigners, Xinhua said.

Correspondents say the move comes as China tightens its already rigid control over the country's media.

Xiao Yang, President of the Supreme People's Court, said that 65 official spokesmen had been appointed.

"With the spokesman system, the courts will adopt a more positive attitude towards news reporting and publicity work," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

"All the important information will be released by the spokesmen."

But cases involving foreigners, national security, ethnic groups, religion and "sensitive issues" would be examined before being released to the media, his deputy Cao Jianming said.

Those giving "improper" news to the media would be punished, he said.

Jailed

Information about proceedings within China's opaque judicial system is often hard to obtain.

Reporters outside the Beijing court where journalist Ching Cheong was tried in August
China says the moves will improve transparency in the courts

In recent weeks, three prominent figures - Straits Times journalist Ching Cheong, New York Times researcher Zhao Yan and activist Chen Guangcheng - have been tried and convicted of various crimes.

Information about their closed-door trials came from relatives of the defendants, their lawyers and unnamed court officials.

The move comes only days after Xinhua announced that foreign media must now seek its approval before distributing any news and pictures within China.

The new regulations give Xinhua the power to censor reports from foreign agencies that are deemed to be a danger to national unity or social stability.

Reporters without Borders said the changes could have a "serious impact" on the work of foreign news agencies.

But Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao defended the measures on Wednesday.

"The open policy adopted by the Chinese government regarding foreign news media and financial information agencies operating in China remains unchanged," he said in a press conference after meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Information about commerce, finance and economic development will flow freely," he said.


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