Two stories in particular this week underscored the growing challenges to the conduct of professional journalism in China.  The first is a firestorm surrounding the reporting and release by Southern Metropolis Daily, a paper historically in China associated with more liberal (and perhaps professional) press conduct, of an audio recording that seemed aimed at discrediting the account of a Chinese student who alleges that she was raped last year by a prominent Chinese business executive. The newspaper shared the audio without, many said, providing proper context or looking more carefully into its origins. Media scholar Fang Kecheng wrote that Southern Metropolis Daily‘s actions more closely resembled those of a social media-based public account, or “self-media” (自媒体), than those of “institutional media.”

The second story is the news that Liu Wanyong (刘万永), a veteran investigative reporter with more than two decades’ experience, has left the media profession to pursue a new career with an asset management company. But Liu made clear that pressures on journalism were a major factor in his decision. “[Leaving China Youth Daily] isn’t just because of financial considerations,” he wrote on WeChat. “I had originally thought that I would spend my whole life as a journalist, but slowly it became impossible to write anything I wanted. This environment has already changed.”

With intense controls on China’s media now having been more or less consistently applied for more than six years under Xi Jinping, and dating back, some might argue, as far as 2010 or even 2008, a compelling argument can be made that the country is facing a generational crisis in journalism. Most of the critical pockets of professional resistance within traditional media outlets have closed, and editors and reporters with experience that might be shared with younger journalists have moved on.

Also, don’t miss our discussion here of the Belt and Road News Network.

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This Week in China’s Media
April 20 to May 3, 2019

Implication of Chinese pharmaceutical boss in U.S. college admissions scandal prompts commentary on admissions corruption in China
China initiates “sunshine comment” action movement to strengthen political guidance of online discussion
Xi Jinping sends letter of congratulation to Council of the Belt and Road News Network: Do participants know what they’re getting into? 
Southern Metropolis Daily faces firestorm of criticism after released of audio recording purported to be of JD.com CEO Liu Qiangdong
Investigative report Liu Wanyong reveals the reasons for his departure from the media: The environment has already changed

[1] Implication of Chinese pharmaceutical boss in U.S. college admissions scandal prompts commentary on admissions corruption in China

According to reports in the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Mail, the Stanford Daily and other publications in the West, the president and co-founder of the publicly listed Chinese pharmaceutical giant Shandong Buchang, Zhao Tao (赵涛), has been implicated in the ongoing scandal over college admissions in the United States. According to news reports, Zhao Tao paid 6.5 million dollars to get his daughter “Molly” Zhao Yusi (赵雨思) admitted to Stanford University. Zhao Yusi, who was a sophomore at Stanford, allegedly admitted with false credentials for the sport of sailing, has reportedly been expelled by the university.

As news of Zhao’s implication in the scandal reached China, the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper noted that this scandal, perhaps the largest admissions scandal ever to hit higher education in the U.S., implicated not just fraudulent intermediaries but also the parents of students. The paper noted that while China has itself uncovered numerous cases in recent years of falsified college entrance examination scores and athletics records, these cases have not, in clear contrast to the U.S. case, focused attention on the role played by parents, and few if any parents involved have faced repercussions.

Commenting on the U.S. scandal, the Beijing News suggested that the wealthy in China should recognize that they have a greater responsibility as people of means to set a positive example through their conduct. The paper said that “the distorted outlook on life and on right and wrong brought on by wealth is not uncommonly found in China. For some of these wealthy people, the degradation of spirit is definitely connected to the larger social environment. But the wealthy differ from ordinary people in that they have a degree of influence that ordinary people do not have, and have an ‘advantage of resources’ that ordinary people cannot hope to match. In other words, they have the ability to avoid the tide of corruption, and even to take on greater responsibility in terms of changing the society and creating an even brighter and even fairer social environment.”

KEY SOURCES:
The Beijing News (新京报): 花巨资买进斯坦福,也是为富不“端”
Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报): 严惩招生舞弊就是要“揪”出家长
Chengdu Commercial News (成都商报): 花650万美元送女儿进斯坦福?步长制药董事长卷入美高校招生舞弊风波

[2] China initiates “sunshine comment” action movement to strengthen political guidance of online discussion

On April 29, the Online Commentary Work Office of the Cyberspace Administration of China (中央网信办网络评论工作局) held what it called the “2019 Sunshine Comments Action Meeting” (阳光跟帖行动推进会) in Beijing. Addressing the internet censorship personnel present at the meeting, Yang Xiaowei (杨小伟), deputy director of the CAC, said that advancing “sunshine comments” — by which he meant comments left by internet users on various types of online content that were “positive” from the standpoint of maintaining social and political control — meant ensuring three basic points. First, cyberspace authorities should “strengthen ideological and political guidance, broadly achieving consensus” (meaning around the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party). Second, authorities should ensure that websites and other online platforms are actively involved in the process of pushing “sunshine comments,” “properly serving their role as guards” (当好把关人) and “properly safeguarding comment ecology”(维护好跟帖生态). Third, authorities must encourage “rational” online conduct by users, “ushering away online pollution through positive energy” (通过正能量驱散网络的雾霾).

At the meeting, Hua Qing (华清), head of the Online Commentary Work Office, revealed six basic activities planned for the “comment action” (跟帖行动) in 2019. These include: 1) fully discussing experiences and outcomes in recent years in terms of “sunshine comments” in order to properly mobilize action; 2) opening special areas concerning “sunshine comments” and proper conduct on such platforms as Guangming Online (光明网), China National Radio Online (央广网), Tencent (腾讯). This would include specific pointers and reminders about “sunshine commenting” directed toward users during the process of registration to make online comments (跟帖); 3) the production and promotion by platforms and companies like the above of special video messages about “sunshine comments” in order to reach users; 4) push participating platforms to produce special audio and video content around the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, highlighting positive voices among web users; 5) to use the China Federation of Internet Societies (CFIS) to advance propaganda events and push platforms to do propaganda reports, actively soliciting user involvement, thereby expanding the reach and influence of the “sunshine comment” action; 6) to hold a dialogue conference at year’s end to offer reward and encouragement to the organizations and individuals involved in the campaign.

In August 2015, a “sunshine comment” movement was initiated by the Cyberspace Administration of China jointly with the Chinese Communist Youth League Central Committee and the China Youth New Media League (中国青少年新媒体协会), an organization within the Chinese Communist Youth League. The current “sunshine comment” action is being led by the China Internet Development Foundation (中国互联网发展基金会) and the China Federation of Internet Societies (CFIS), in principal cooperation with 10 major media organizations, including Guangming Online, China National Radio Online and Tencent, and participation from 16 major internet platforms, including TikTok (抖音), Kuaishou (快手) and Miaopai (秒拍).

KEY SOURCES:
WeChat public account “China Cyberspace Administration” (网信中国): 2019年阳光跟帖行动推进会在京举行
Guangming Online (光明网): 阳光跟帖行动推进会在京举行
Baidu public account “Observer Online” (观察者网): 关于跟帖评论,这3点要求很重要!
China Youth Daily Online (中国青年网): TFBOYS任“阳光跟帖”行动大使:别让鼠标键盘跑过理智

[3] Xi Jinping sends letter of congratulation to Council of the Belt and Road News Network: Do participants know what they’re getting into? 

On April 23, the first council meeting of the Belt and Road News Network (一带一路新闻合作联盟) was held in Beijing at the People’s Daily, with the Party’s flagship newspaper designated as the organization’s directorate general (理事长单位). In a formal letter to the meeting, President Xi Jinping said he hoped that various participating news organizations from around the world could “tell the story of Belt and Road well, creating a favorable public opinion environment for the building of Belt and Road.”

At the opening ceremony for the event, the organization’s official website, www.brnn.com, was formally launched by People’s Daily Online, providing, according to official Chinese sources, a platform for “interaction and discussion, article upload and download, content sharing, copyright exchange and other services.” The website is currently available in Chinese, English, French, Russian, Arabic and Spanish.

Typical of such broad-brush initiatives advanced by Chinese agency but cobbling together supposed groups of decision-makers and partners — one prominent example in recent years being the World Media Summit and its “presidium” of international media bosses — the Belt and Road News Network seems sloppy and unserious when one takes the most cursory further look at its online presence.

For example, under the section “Database,” which one might expect to provide information of real value about BRI, a link on “BRI Countries” simply lists out all MOU signatories in no apparent order, which repeated explanations under each that are not even clickable, unlinked to further information, such as when the countries signed with China.

The section on BRI data includes just two articles, both posted on April 20, five days before the opening of the forum, that are propaganda pieces done by Xinhua.

State media are claiming that 40 media organizations from 25 countries participated in the first council meeting of the BRNN, and that 182 media organizations from 86 countries have so far joined the network. One must did around a bit, but a list of BRNN “council members” is given within the council’s first joint statement, as follows:

The council members include influential media organizations from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. They are: People’s Daily (China), The Financial Express (Bangladesh), Belarus Today Publishing House (Belarus), Xinhua News Agency (China), China Media Group (China), Guangming Daily (China), Economic Daily (China), China Daily (China), China International Publishing Group (China), Science and Technology Daily (China), Workers’ Daily (China), China Youth Daily (China), China Women’s News (China), Farmers’ Daily (China), Legal Daily (China), China News Service (China), China Intercontinental Communication Center (China), Al-ahram Newspaper (Egypt), Ethiopian News Agency (Ethiopia), La Provence (France), The Jakarta Post (Indonesia), Kazinform International News Agency (Kazakhstan), Maekyung Media Group (Republic of Korea), Lao Press in Foreign Languages(Laos), Notimex (Mexico), Confederation of Mongolian Journalists (Mongolia), Democracy Today Newspaper (Myanmar), RNW Media (Netherlands), Thisday Newspaper (Nigeria), Jang Media Group and GEO Television Network (Pakistan), AgênciaLusa (Portugal), Russian News Agency TASS (Russia), Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russia), Independent Media (South Africa), Agencia EFE (Spain), Alintibaha Daily Newspaper (Sudan), The Guardian Limited (Tanzania), Emirates News Agency (U.A.E), Associated Newspapers Ltd., DMGT (U.K) and Zambia Daily Mail (Zambia).

The council member listed from the Netherlands, RNW Media, is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to identify young people’s needs and to bring young people together in user-owned digital communities where they can safely engage on taboos and sensitive topics and generate strong stories for advocacy to unleash their potential for social change.” The group subscribes to the Partos Code of Conduct 2012, which it says makes “clear agreements regarding integrity, manners, good governance, quality, use of social media and independence.” The Global Times newspaper also ran an interview with the CEO of RNW Media, in which she spoke about the need for neutrality.

The Secretariat of the BRNN, however, is located within the headquarters of the People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, and all contacts are directed there. All Chinese media participants in the council, without exception, are operated by the Central Propaganda Department of the CCP.

The Spanish participant in the council is Agencia EFE, a Spanish international news agency.

KEY SOURCES:
People’s Daily Online (人民网): 习近平向“一带一路”新闻合作联盟首届理事会议致贺信
Xinhua Online (新华网): 黄坤明出席“一带一路”新闻合作联盟首届理事会议开幕式并致辞
People’s Daily (人民日报): “一带一路”新闻合作联盟章程

[4] Southern Metropolis Daily faces firestorm of criticism after released of audio recording purported to be of JD.com CEO Liu Qiangdong

On April 24, Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper faced a firestorm of criticism for releasing an audio recording the previous day purporting to be of “a woman demanding money from Liu Qiangdong” (女生向刘强东索要钱财). Liu, also known as Richard Liu, is the billionaire founder and CEO of JD.com. He faced accusations last year that he had raped a Chinese student in Minneapolis, but prosecutors in Minnesota decided last December not to press charges against him in the case. The audio in question, which seemed to have been intended to support counter accusations against Liu’s accuser, was apparently provided to the paper through an anonymous e-mail, and some critics said the newspaper had acted unprofessionally and against ethical standards in releasing it.

The release of the audio recording came just after a series of video clips emerged online through a Weibo account called “Mingzhou Shiji” (明州事记) showing surveillance camera footage of Liu Qiangdong and his accuser together on the night of the alleged incident.

Media scholar and former Southern Weekly journalist Fang Kecheng (方可成) wrote that the Southern Metropolis Daily had in this case ignored its professional obligations as an “institutional media” organization — conducting fact-checking, comparing the audio recording against statements from the accuser in the original case filings, etc. — and had behaved instead like a “self-media,” or zimeiti (自媒体).

KEY SOURCES:
WeChat public account “Jiu Wen Pinglun” (旧闻评论): 只谴责南都是不够的 | 据扯
WeChat public account “Fang Kecheng’s Journalism Lab” (方可成的新闻实验室): 刘强东案音视频:机构媒体的堕落与溃败

[5] Investigative reporter Liu Wanyong reveals the reasons for his departure from the media: The environment has already changed

On April 25, China Youth Daily journalist Liu Wanyong (刘万永) shared a message in his personal chat confirming he had already formally left the journalism profession, as he had indicated was his plan back in January this year. He wrote in his personal chat group: “It’s been a difficult journey. I’ve left, and even more now do I admire those who are still persisting.” On the same day, Japan’s Asahi Shinbun (朝日新闻) reported that Liu Wanyong was headed for a position at an asset management company, his wages expected to be 5 or 6 times what he earned at his newspaper. Liu clarified: “[Leaving China Youth Daily] isn’t just because of financial considerations. I had originally thought that I would spend my whole life as a journalist, but slowly it became impossible to write anything I wanted. This environment has already changed.”

Liu Wanyong graduated from Hebei University in 1996, going on to study at the China Journalism School at Renmin University (中国新闻学院) in 1998, and in the same year beginning work at China Youth Daily. He was later deputy editor of the special reports and in-depth reports department at the paper. He is a recipient of China’s Yangtze Taofen News Prize(长江韬奋奖), considered one of the country’s top journalism honors, as well as a China Journalism Award (中国新闻奖). In 2012, Liu was chosen as a delegate to the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. His investigative reports have included “The Business Dealings of a Retired High Official” (一个退休高官的生意经) and “A Public Security Official’s Daughter Attends College Under a False Name” (公安局政委女儿冒名顶替上大学). Liu made international headlines in 2006 after he was attacked by thugs at a courthouse in Liaoning province in apparent retaliation for the first of these two stories, published in May 2005 — which exposed the dirty dealings of the retired former mayor of the city of Fuxin city, Wang Yachen, who had essentially stolen a company and jailed its owner after first joining the company as an advisor.

KEY SOURCES:
WeChat public account “Media Jianghu” (传媒江湖): 刘万永透露离职原因:环境变了!现工资是中青报的五六倍
Dujia (独家): 调查记者刘万永宣布告别媒体:事非经过不知难!
WeChat public account “New Journalist” (新记者): 人物|刘万永:“不管是传统媒体或是自媒体,有人报道出来就是好事”