China is not trying to ban reporters from publishing critical reports without prior approval, an official told state media on Thursday, insisting an order had been misinterpreted and its real goal was to stop journalists abusing their jobs.
The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued rules on Wednesday saying reporters could only publish critical stories if their employer had signed off on it, sparking accusations of censorship.
The rules come as the government intensifies a crackdown on freedom of expression, both online and in traditional media.
But Jiang Jianguo, deputy head of the administration, told the official Xinhua news agency that the government was dedicated to protecting reporters' rights.
"Some people misinterpreted our instruction as not allowing press criticism in general, but in fact, we have resolutely protected reporters' lawful professional rights and positively support media supervision via public opinion," Jiang said.
The order that reporters get their employers' approval to conduct critical reporting is "in line with regular regulations and addresses the problem journalists abusing their positions for blackmail", Jiang added.
The rules are part of a national campaign against crooked and fake reporters who demand hush money for burying negative stories, which often are untrue, Xinhua said.
"This behavior has severely violated the rights of ordinary people, damaged media organizations' reputations and smeared the image of journalists," Jiang said.
China adopted tough measures to crack down on online rumors last year, but critics say the campaign is simply a means to target criticism of the ruling Communist Party that has chilled political discourse.
China's news media is heavily censored and media organizations need to obtain licenses from the government before publishing.
State media has been the key vehicle for party propaganda, but reforms over the past decade have allowed greater commercialization and some increase in editorial independence.
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