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Draft Emergency Response Law Bans False Information on Accidents

China's top legislature on Sunday pored over an emergency response law which bans the fabrication and spread of false information on accidents and disasters and requires government to provide accurate and timely information.

The draft emergency response law was submitted Sunday to the six-day 28th session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), or China's top legislature, for a second reading.

The draft emergency response law was submitted for first review in June 2006. At that time the draft included a provision saying that "news media that irregularly report the development and handling of emergencies without authorization or release fraudulent reports will be fined between 50,000 yuan (or US$6,250) and 100,000 yuan, if the reports lead to serious consequences."

The provision sparked heated discussion amid lawmakers. Some said information transparency is crucial to handling emergencies and that the media's contribution should be affirmed and praised.

They said the expression "irregular reports" was ambiguous, and could be used by some local governments as an excuse to prevent objective reporting by news organizations. Media supervision was needed to ensure that government officials did not hide or misrepresent information regarding emergencies, they said.

In his report, Wang Maolin, vice director of the NPC Law Committee, said that some lawmakers held that government should provide unified, accurate and timely information on emergencies, and news media should report emergencies "objectively".

"Some lawmakers questioned the appropriateness of imposing fines on those who fabricate or spread false information about emergencies, others argued that stronger sanctions were required," Wang said in his report.

Finally, legislators decided to eliminate the mention of fines from the draft law. Also omitted was the specific reference to reporting of emergencies by news media.

The draft now states that "units and individuals are prohibited from fabricating or spreading false information regarding emergencies and government efforts to cope with emergencies."

Units and individuals who know that information regarding an accident or a disaster is untrue must not spread it, the draft said.

Offenders will be warned. If their offences lead to serious consequences, their business licenses will be revoked. If the offenders are government officials, they will be given administrative punishments, said the draft.

Behavior that contravenes public security management rules or criminal statutes will lead to prosecution, the draft said.

The draft said "people's governments in charge of coping with an emergency should provide unified, accurate and timely information on the emergency and its development."

The State Council should establish a national information system of emergencies to share information between governments at all levels, the draft said.

It also said that when facing more than one choice of measures in dealing with emergencies, the government or relevant organs should choose the one that can best protect people's interests.

Taking lessons from the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, the Chinese government has since maintained a more open attitude towards media coverage of major crisis and emergencies.

To date, all ministries and a large number of local governments have appointed their spokespersons and established the mechanism for regular media briefing.

Currently, China's media are providing timely reporting on emergencies, such as bird flu cases, coal mine accidents, explosions and air crashes.

Emergencies are defined in the draft as industrial accidents, natural disasters, and health and public security crises.

(Xinhua News Agency June 25, 2007)

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