China Announces Media Crackdown Ahead of Communist Party Meeting

China announced Wednesday that it would carry out a wide-ranging crackdown on "false news" and illegal publications ahead of the ruling Communist Party's most important meeting in five years.

The crackdown, to run through mid-October, appears aimed at ratcheting up the Communist Party's already tight media controls to prevent any disruptions that would marring the 17th Party Congress. The party tries to tightly control the media in China and is sensitive to any criticism of its grip on power or questions about its top leaders.

But China has also struggled with problems of manufactured news stories and people posing as journalists seeking payoffs to suppress bad news.

Earlier this week, a Beijing court sentenced a reporter to a year in jail for faking a television story about cardboard-filled meat buns — a story that drew widespread attention to the country's poor food safety record.

The announcement Wednesday in the party's main mouthpiece, the People's Daily, and on a government Web site said the campaign will be aimed at bogus journalists and reporters who take bribes to produce positive stories and suppress negative news.

"The campaign aims to clamp down on illegal news coverage and eliminate any spread of false news," Liu Binjie, the director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, was quoted as saying.

No date has been announced for the Communist Party congress, but it is expected to be held anytime from the middle of October. The congress, held every five years, will set the agenda for the party and country for the next five years, and will likely include a reshuffling of some top leaders. It will also mark a renewal of party leader Hu Jintao's five-year tenure.

The campaign against false news will target newspapers and magazines illegally published in China using overseas registrations, as well as illegal foreign-language media aimed at foreigners living in China, political media that fabricate rumors, and military media that leak state secrets, Liu was quoted as saying.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday that two people masquerading as journalists had been sentenced to prison terms of one and three years, respectively, for extortion and blackmail.

Xinhua also said that 17 people had been arrested for allegedly smuggling and selling more than 250,000 illegal newspapers and other publications in the southern city of Shenzhen.