China’s David vs. Goliath

One piece of potentially good news coming out of China is the media phenomenon sparked by the incredibly courageous Nanfang Daily, famous for unearthing stories of corruption and scandal within the Party. This encouraging/upsetting article tells how this little David has inspired journalists across the country to change their approach to the Goliath CCP.

It could have been the scoop of the year: the deputy governor of Henan province had reportedly conspired with a local mayor to have his wife killed and chopped up. If proven, the murder would rank as one of the worst crimes by a senior official for decades.

But the story was a minefield. Knowing how many papers have been closed down, and how many journalists arrested, for covering such sensitive topics, most editors gave Henan a wide berth,

The exception was the Nanfang (Southern) Daily Press Group, whose papers are increasingly earning national respect, and official condemnation, for their coverage of China’s social ills. When reports of the killing emerged this month, reporters from two of the group’s flagship titles, The Southern Metropolitan Daily and Southern Weekend, flew to the provincial capital, Zhengzhou, and talked to the victim’s family, colleagues, and detectives. Off the record sources confirmed the murder and arrest, but a request for an official comment effectively killed the story. Henan’s propaganda department ordered a news blackout.

It was nothing new. That week, three other Southern Weekend stories were spiked by the authorities. Nothing was published on police negligence in floods that killed 100 school children, nor on six villagers murdered in battles with gangs recruited by power companies to kick them off their land, nor poor safety planning that led to a fire in which 31 died.

Even after their stories were buried, the journalists used other means to get the news out, via private diaries and field notes posted on the internet or circulated by email. Some revealed they had to travel in near secrecy to avoid local authorities. Others said they used public phones to avoid being traced, and filed from net cafes and through friends.

“As a journalist, my job should be focused on writing a good report. But half of my effort is spent on considering how to get a story past the censors and the likelihood of punishment,” said Liu Jianqiang, whose Henan story was spiked.

This is an inspiring story and one that gives hope to the belief that the more people in China learn what’s actually going on the more willing they will be to fight for justice. The article details how this has morphed from a local nuisance for the Party into a nationwide movement that is creating major headaches.

“Nanfang group has started a nationwide movement,” said a former employee. “I think most journalists don’t stand on the side of the party, they stand on the side of society. There has been a big change in the attitude of the media.”

The authorities appear rattled. Propaganda officials now convey orders by phone. A more direct control is to replace editors with propaganda officials, such as Xiang Xi, latest chief of Southern Weekend. There are more sinister means: in the past two years, at least five Chinese and two foreign journalists (recently, Ching Cheong of the Straits Times) have been arrested. According to the rights group, Reporters Without Borders, China has jailed 30 reporters and 62 cyber dissidents – more than any other country.

But the media’s assertiveness was apparent in an open petition this week by more than 2,000 journalists against the detention of former Nanfang editors Yu and Li. Their colleague, Cheng Yizhong, former editor-in-chief of the Southern Metropolitan Daily, has been released after an outcry. In April, he was awarded the World Press Freedom prize by Unesco. Stripped of his post, kicked out of the party, and refused permission to attend the prize-giving, Mr Cheng wrote an uncompromising acceptance speech. “Terror is everywhere. Lies are everywhere,” he said. “I believe that in the near future, we will look back and find this insane and absurd episode to be absolutely unthinkable.

What was that about Chinese people not caring about free speech and basic rights?

Thanks for the link, DF.

Update: Take a look that this, because we need to remember that each of those journalists languishing in prison in the land of reform actually has a human face. You can click through all the names on the list. An important reminder.

The Discussion: 4 Comments does not want to connect tonight in Qingdao,

I think some of those Nanfang reporters should be giving visas to the US and sent their to shake up the lazy, gutless and willingly compromised journalists and mascarading Bush government toadies.
I bet they would enjoy working in the US.

July 2, 2005 @ 11:55 am | Comment

I’d have been shocked if the link worked from China. And yes, I’d love to set them loose on the Bush criminals. Our own “investigative reporters” (James Wolcott refers to them as “attack poodles”) believe their life mission is to hump Bush’s leg.

July 2, 2005 @ 11:58 am | Comment

The fascist authorities have seen fit to block the site. I’ve tried my proxy server but still no luck. Fascists.

July 4, 2005 @ 7:43 am | Comment

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September 16, 2006 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

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