The China Economic Times is dismantling its investigative reporting team after pressure from the Communist Party. According to CMP, people inside CET are saying a “ridiculous leader” reportedly came to their offices and broke up the investigative unit. The head of that unit, Wang Keqin, reacted to this on his Weibo, saying “Where political power burns books, it will ultimately burn people also. Where political power begins to suppress the voice, if it is not stopped, its next step will be to destroy the witness!”
That quote comes from Heinrich Heine’s play “Almansor,” and is engraved at the entrance to that Dachau concentration camp, as well as at the site of the famous Nazi book burning in Berlin’s Opernplatz.
Xie Baokang, the assistant to the editor-in-chief at CET told AFP that the investigative correspondents are still at the newspaper, just in different departments. It’s unclear whether they will continue their investigative reporting from these new posts.
Keqin just recently wrote a blog entry describing investigative reporting in China since the 1990s, saying it was on the rise. (The original, in Chinese, available here.)
The China Economic Times, which is published by the Development Research Center, a think tank controlled by China’s State Council, has long been a leader in investigative journalism. In 2002 it found taxi companies were ripping off their drivers with ad hoc fees. In 2007 it found that high-speed railways between Wuhan and Guangzhou was being built with fake materials. Last year it found that the Health Ministry wasn’t properly storing vaccines which led to illness or death for 80 children. That report resulted in the paper’s editor-in-chief Bao Yuehang getting the boot after he defended the report.
In his blog post, Keqin said last year was a high-point for investigative journalism in China. Maybe this is the first sign that 2011 will not be continuing that trend.
By Robert O’Connor