Image by James Griffiths, original photo: @staflo.
Yesterday evening, Global Times editor Tom Fearon emailed me in response to my post “The Global Times’ faux concern about the ‘sex tape mistress’ is heartbreaking” in which I accused Fearon and the Times of using “faux concern over the outing of Zhao as a stick with which to beat investigative reporter Ji Xuguang”.
His email in full:
I’m writing in response to your post this evening regarding an opinion piece published under my name about the Lei Zhengfu sex scandal. I’m not sure if the Shanghaiist offers a right of reply to subjects of its posts, but as an avid fan of your blog and longtime supporter I hope you will consider it.
Firstly, it’s important to point out my opinion piece appeared on Metro Beijing’s Two Cents page. The page is not part of the newspaper’s main editorial and opinion page. Opinions expressed in Two Cents are those of writers and, as such, my article should not be seen as reflecting the view of the Global Times. It’s mine and, for better or worse, I stand by it.
Secondly, the purpose of my opinion piece was to share the views of Shanghaiist readers who took issue, or supported, the blog?s uploading of Zhao’s photo. As a Facebook fan of the Shanghaiist, I was naturally interested when the photo surfaced and, admittedly, I sympathized with some of the people who disagreed with it being shared.
Regarding the Shanghaiist’s comment “nowhere has it been suggested that the sex tapes were ‘stings’ by the journalists,” I agree, but must stress I did not make this claim in my piece. I suspect they were, like Lei’s case, stings set up by companies with an axe to grind for officials with a weakness for mistresses.
I understand that when an opinion piece appears in the Global Times, particularly with a foreigner’s byline, it is met with suspicion and contempt among China’s expat community. This is probably justified for some political issues, but the case of leaking Zhao Hongxia?s photos is social and ethical one.
I also wish to make it clear I wholeheartedly support investigative journalism in China and my purpose wasn’t to attack Ji Xuguang and Zhu Ruifeng. I’ve worked with many Chinese reporters who risk their neck uncovering sensitive stories. Ji and Zhu should be commended for what they have unearthed, but the wider media should nevertheless respect the privacy of “small fish”, such as Zhao, who are pawns in corruption.
Regarding the Shanghaiist’s claim photos of Zhao were “newsworthy” because “nearly every China blog and several international newspapers” published the photo, I believe this is a subjective issue. Ethical standards vary within the media and labeling something newsworthy because the rest of the mob is doing it is contentious.
Finally, one point I didn’t mention in the article was that some websites, not the Shanghaiist, leaked photos of Zhao along with those of Xiamen university student, Song Wenwen. Song had her reputation tarnished being wrongfully associated in the scandal, something that I think could have easily been avoided.
For what it’s worth, I agree with the Shanghaiist that Zhao’s case reflects exploitation more than rape. But amplifying that exploitation through the leaking of photos is something I don’t support, purely because the public interest lies with Lei. Zhao had a sense of anonymity in the sex tape. I believe she should have kept it.
Tom Fearon, Global Times
Journalist/Editor, Metro Beijing
Tom’s email is fair and well-written, the dispute again comes down to whether you think the photos are newsworthy, which I do and clearly he doesn’t. Though I will point out that in my piece I didn’t suggest that they were newsworthy because other blogs/papers published them, just that I was not the only editor to feel this way.
In the interests of transparency, here is the reply I sent Tom:
I stand by my reporting with regard to Zhao. Had I been the one in possession of those photos and her identity, I most likely would have sat on them in the interests of protecting her anonymity, but given that the photos were already being spread around the Chinese web, it was in our interest as a news organization to get in front of the story and report on what was definitely a newsworthy story. I respect that many people, including yourself, disagree with me on this point. If I had the opportunity to go back, I would still publish the photos but would conceal Zhao’s face as I did in the photos of a teacher who was fired because her ex leaked naked photos of her.
Anyone hoping for a complete mea culpa from me on this issue will be disappointed, but I will happily acknowledge that we could have protected Zhao’s anonymity to a certain extent while still publishing the photos.