Thursday, September 27, 2007

Journalism Laws- China vs US

In the United States, reporters are protected by many laws. The main law protecting journalists and reporters is the First Amendment. The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no laws abridging freedom of speech, freedom of the press, peaceable assembly, freedom of religious establishment of free exercise…” The freedom of speech and press are the two things that allow journalists to do their jobs without a constant fear of being arrested for what they report. This does not mean, however, that they are able to write whatever they feel like. There are some restrictions with topics. Things that could be considered defamation, such as libel and slander, are not allowed. Sometimes the line between what is ok for reporting and what would be better kept to the reporter is not very clear. Reporters have found themselves being arrested for things they wrote, even when they felt they had done no wrong.

Zhao Yan is one of the most recent reporters who were arrested for one of their stories. Yan is a Chinese researcher for the New York Times. He was arrested in 2004 and served a three year sentence in Beijing, China. Initially he was charged with writing a report that then-leader Jiang Zemin's planned to step down as head of the military. Yan was acquitted of this charge, but later convicted of fraud. He was accused of taking $2500 from a man and promising to reduce that man’s prison sentence.

Had Yan been in the United States and tried printing the article, it is questionable whether his story would have been printed. It did deal with the military leader stepping down, but the Chinese were not at war during that time. A story about the leader of the military stepping down would not have that much of an impact on national security. Looking at it that way, it is likely his story would have been printed here and he would not face the prison sentence. However, because he was on Chinese soil, the protective laws he has here in the United States, did not carry over.

Yan was just recently released from prison and is glad to be back with his family. He plans to stick with his career in journalism.

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