Murky media scandal

11 Nov

A major media controversy unfolded last month when a Guangzhou-based investigative journalist was suddenly arrested by police and taken to another province. His newspaper responded by printing an appeal for his release on its front page for two consecutive days, a very bold step that probably wouldn’t have passed official censorship. This journalist had been reporting on a big construction machinery maker and was being charged for damaging the reputation of this company. Yet what happened afterward was an even bigger shock – the journalist appeared on CCTV, the national broadcaster, and confessed to having written fabricated accusations in his articles about that company in exchange for bribes, presumably from the company’s rivals. It was a major blow to journalism and the reporter’s newspaper, which previously had gotten a lot of sympathy. This brought to mind events in the recent past in China when reporters had taken money from businesses not to report bad news. If the reporter’s confessions were true, it really is a serious setback to journalism in the mainland, not to mention his and his paper’s reputations. But one can’t help harboring some cynicism here – would a reporter at a respectable newspaper really write a series of articles containing completely false information just for money? What if the newspaper’s front-page appeals had so unnerved the authorities that they took steps to cause the reversal and make the reporter confess. On the other hand, if the newspaper was bold enough to publish front-page appeals and was certain about its reporter’s integrity in his articles, wouldn’t they have been able to mount a protest instead of seemingly meekly accepting the reporter’s “confession”?

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