Defamation Litigation and the Press In China By Xiaoyan Chen and Peng Hwa Ang

Abstract: This paper analyses 145 defamation cases in the court dockets in Chengdu from January 1987 to July 2005.Chengdu, the fourth most populous city in China, was chosen because the city trailblazed a number of reforms in the media in China. Lawyers and staff handling legal matters for all the newspaper groups in Chengdu were interviewed. Also interviewed were administrative personnel of the newspapers and senior officials from Chengdu Municipality Propaganda Bureau.Analyses of the cases show a marked increase in the number of defamation suits since the law was changed, probably attributable to an increasing awareness and consciousness of individual rights. This study also found that the success rate for plaintiffs depended more on the climate of the period in question than on whether the government or private sector is the owner.The success rate could also be divided over three periods, corresponding to the development of the media in China. This study suggests that the authority have not used defamation laws as a weapon to suppress the media; neither do the media nor journalists regard defamation litigation and defamation law as a major threat to their freedom of expression. This is not to deny the element of power in defamation litigation: ordinary individuals had the hardest time in defamation. This paper argues that it is simplistic to try to attain greater media freedom and freedom of expression through a mere reshaping of defamation law.

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