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Introduction The government of the Peoples Republic of China PRC employs anextensive and burdensome licensing system to restrict publication ofnews and opinions on matters of public concern Those who are allowedto publish confront a legal system that obscures the boundaries offreedom of expression and discourages communications with foreigners sothat most Chinese are too wary to publish information that authoritiesmight deem critical or embarrassing Anyone wanting to publish suchinformation can do so only if they enjoy the patronage of a member ofthe PRCs free speech elite - someone whose political statusprovides a degree of safety from prosecution The global spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome SARS is adirect product of these systemic restrictions on freedom of expressionThe impact of SARS has put PRC leaders on notice that although thissystem allows them to control criticism it also prevents theestablishment of private institutions with the capacity and willingnessto investigate and report on matters of public concern This impedesthe free flow of information in a way that threatens the well-being ofPRC citizens and as the PRC has chosen to increasingly participate inglobal affairs as with the Womens World Cup and the Olympicseveryone with whom they interact PRC authorities should eliminatethese systemic restraints on freedom of expression to ensure that in thefuture people do not needlessly suffer through a crisis whose impactcould have been lessened through greater public scrutiny and awarenessOn February 11 2003 the official Peoples Daily website published anarticle stating that five people in Guangzhou had died of what it termedatypical pneumonia The articles headline proclaimed GuangzhouAtypical Pneumonia Already Effectively Controlled In the monthssince the PRC government made this promise the number of reported casesof and deaths from SARS in the PRC has grown over 1000 and SARS hasbecome a global health and economic crisis Although PRC officials haveapologized and several have been fired or demoted it would be wrong toview the situation as merely the result of administrative error
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