Photo by xiaming
It’s been a frustrating month for reporters in China. The Economic Observer’s deputy editor in chief, Zhang Hong, was removed from his position soon after the release of a joint editorial attacking China’s hukou system, and the paper’s other top editors received harsh warning from the authorities.
Soon after, China announced it would toughen up already stringent requirements for journalists by launching a new certification system to include training in Marxist news and media theory. Li Dongdong, deputy director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, told Xinhua News Agency,
Comrades who are going to be working on journalism’s front lines must learn theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics and be taught Marx’s view on news, plus media ethics and Communist Party discipline on news and propaganda.
Then came the outburst of Hubei governor Li Hongzhong. When asked about a scandalous episode in his province in which a waitress at a karaoke bar killed a government official in self-defence, Li snatched the journalist’s audio recorder and stormed off, threatening to go to her boss. However, it was not long before a horde of journalists, lawyers, academics and activists posted a letter of protest online demanding the governor’s resignation. It hasn’t worked yet.
Plus, actually getting information from Chinese sources is no easy feat, as shown by this translation from China Geeks. In it, a Hong Kong reporter battles to confirm Google’s exit from China with Chinese government officials at the State Council News Bureau:
Reporter: Oh, it’s like this, I’d like to ask whether Google is leaving the Chinese market or not.
S.C. Worker 1: Oh, this… […] we still don’t have that…we’re still not very clear on it.
S.C. Worker 1: So you’ll have to ask another department, this office hasn’t received any news.
Reporter: You haven’t recieved any news. But isn’t this the State Council news bureau?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes. But we have many offices.
Reporter: Oh. Then what office should I ask? What office is this?
S.C. Worker 1: This is the news office.
Reporter: The news office, yes?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes.
Reporter: And at the news office you haven’t heard anything relating to [this piece of news]?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh, this, perhaps it is not out office that is responsible for this [piece of news].
Reporter: In that case, what office is responsible for it?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh [long pause] it’s…the propaganda office.
Reporter: Oh, the propaganda office?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes, maybe it’s the propaganda office.
Reporter: But have you heard the news that Google is going to leave China?
S.C. Worker 1: I saw it on the internet, but this office isn’t responsible for it.
Suffice to say, the reporter’s question was not answered. The conversation continued with the State Council worker suggesting the reporter send a fax with his question and contact details, which was apparently part of the “normal system.”
But Susan Osman, a former BBC presenter who moved to Chinese state radio CRI, reminds us that China is changing. She says her breakfast-time English-language show, Beijing Hour, is pushing the boundaries, such as by discussing mental health disorders on the day British drug dealer Akmal Shaikh was executed in Urumqi.
And so, some still continue on. Because despite the substantial struggles, ranging from infuriating bureaucracy to potentially dangerous detention, the frustrations can be part of the excitement. As NPR’s Louisa Lim says, “the frustrations are many and unexpected, yet for journalists it’s a land of opportunity, where there are so many stories to cover and so little time to get to them all.”