Twofish's Blog

June 28, 2006

Notes on proposed emergency law

Filed under: china — twofish @ 4:41 pm

Just some extra information regarding the draft law that proposes to fine Chinese media for unauthorized disclosure of emergency incidents (which is a really, really bad idea for obvious reasons).  I do disagree with the last paragraph in the Washington Post article

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/26/AR2006062601242.html

that reads

Some journalists expressed hope that the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, will reject the draft law’s media provisions. In practice, however, the National People’s Congress rarely, if ever, contests government decisions.

That’s actually incorrect.  Given the amount of public outrage and annoyance within the NPC, I think it is highly unlikely that clause is going to stay in the legislation.

http://caijing.hexun.com/text.aspx?lm=2550&id=1706210

The draft proposal just passed first reading, but it has too more readings, and I suspect that the clause is going to be watered down or removed.  What the Washington Post article misses is that the NPC is no longer a rubber stamp legislature that takes orders from outsiders.  The membership of the NPC is largely determined by the Communist Party, but in recent years the NPC has become a forum in which different people within the party and the government argue over issues, which means that legislative drafting in the NPC actually is a real process, and not one for show.  The problem with the idea that the NPC merely does what the Party and government wants is that nowadays the Party and government often aren’t sure exactly what they want.

The fact that people actually debate and disagree in the NPC changes the dynamics of the situation.  The NPC still approves bills with near unianimous votes, but this actually works in a way that is different from Soviet-style legislatures in that any bill for which there is no consensus on passage now gets withdrawn and/or modified.  The key in the NPC (like any “real” legislature) is not the final vote, but process that gets to the final vote, and given that the clause has aroused so much screaming, I don’t see how it is going to make it through the process.

This is especially true since there is a “politically correct” reason to kill the clause.  Arguing against the clause on the basis of abstract principles of freedom of speech probably is not going to turn heads in the NPC, but arguing that it gives too much power to local officials and allows them to hide information from the center, will.  The other thing that one should note is that the proposed bill is not what the English call a “three line whip” (a oppose this and you are in trouble measure).  It’s a bill on emergency management which isn’t that high on the “pass this or else” list.

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1 Comment »

  1. You are right.

    China’s media clampdown law is still in the proposal stage and the way things work in China, the longer it stays in that stage, and the more it is talked about, the less likely it is to be enacted. The silver lining in all of this is that this proposed law is increasing Chinese importance of press freedom. If this law ends up not being enacted (and I think that is a real possibility) its proposal and subsequent failure will end up being a good thing for freedom of the press in China.

    Comment by China Law Blog — July 4, 2006 @ 2:12 pm


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