China bans unapproved 'critical reporting': Xinhua

BEIJING (AFP) - China has banned its journalists from undertaking "critical reporting" without prior approval, state media said on Wednesday, a further clampdown in a country whose media restrictions already rank among the world's harshest.

Chinese journalists "are prohibited from engaging in critical reporting unless they have received the approval of their work unit", the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television announced Wednesday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Journalists are barred from "cross-industry" reporting, Xinhua said, without explaining the term but adding that the move was mainly aimed at curbing extortion, paid news and false news reports.

Those suspected of such activities could be held criminally liable as well as face the withdrawal of their press cards and expulsion from the ruling Communist Party if applicable, Xinhua added.

Chinese authorities keep a tight grip on information, with media controlled by the government and online social networks subject to heavy censorship.

Authorities have also recently launched a broad crackdown on "online rumours", with a recent rule stipulating that Internet users could face three years in prison for writing defamatory messages that were then re-posted 500 times.

China came 173rd in a press freedom ranking of 179 countries issued by the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders last year, climbing one place from 2012.