World Newspaper Congress Opens with Press Freedom Award to Chinese Reporter

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The World Association of Newspapers on Monday called on China to improve press freedom and release imprisoned journalists as it kicked off its annual global newspaper conference.

The association gave its annual Golden Pen of Freedom award to Chinese journalist Li Changqing, who was released in February after two years in prison for reporting on an outbreak of dengue fever.

Some 1,800 publishers, editors and media executives were attending the three-day World Newspaper Congress to discuss the future of the newspaper industry, which is growing worldwide but losing circulation in the United States and Europe.

The association said Li could not travel to Sweden to accept the award because he was unable to obtain a passport. Li Jianhong, an exiled Chinese writer, accepted the award on the winner’s behalf.

“In China, being a journalist is full of risks,” Li Changqing said in an acceptance speech read by Li Jianhong to the 1,800 publishers, editors and media executives attending the World Newspaper Congress. “To be a good journalist, one not only needs wisdom, but even more, moral courage.”

It was the second consecutive year that the prize went to a Chinese journalist, underscoring China’s continuing harsh press restrictions despite a flourishing economy and rapid social change.

The 2007 award went to Shi Tao, who was serving a 10-year sentence after e-mailing the contents of a government propaganda circular to a human rights forum in the United States.

“Despite the promises it made in its successful Olympic bid to improve conditions for journalists, China has continued its repressive policies,” World Editors Forum President George Brock said in presenting this year’s award.

He said 30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents are now in Chinese jails and reiterated calls for their release.

Li disclosed an outbreak of dengue fever before health officials in his hometown alerted the public. He was sentenced to prison for “spreading false and alarmist information.”

Several research reports are being presented at the conference, including global newspaper circulation figures and a study commissioned by The Associated Press on news consumption among young adults.

Newspaper circulation rose 2.6 percent worldwide in 2007, driven by growth in South America and Asia, the World Association of Newspapers said. Adding free newspapers, circulation was up 3.7 percent, WAN said.

However, circulation fell 3 percent in the United States and 1.9 percent in Europe, it said.

Newspaper advertising revenue rose in all regions except North America, while Internet advertising revenue worldwide was up 32 percent, according to the data.

Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf opened the congress saying a free press was “crucial to the development of democracy” but cautioned that it also must be exercised with responsibility.

“The strength of your pen has a strong influence on daily life for many people,” the figurehead monarch said.

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