Two weeks ago, the announcement by local leaders of a new “watchdog journalism prize” in the city of Chenzhou, Hunan province, drew sharp criticism from newspapers across China. Today, leaders in Chenzhou sought to clarify their intentions through a news report in the official People’s Daily.
After the prize was included in Chenzhou’s “Opinion on Further Supporting the Work of News Media” on January 11, many commentators characterized it as an effort to impede media supervision by co-opting it. They called for better protections for journalism independent from official meddling, and noted that while the prize targeted provincial and national media, local media in Chenzhou had been left out.
“What is most regrettable,” said a January 15 editorial in Southern Metropolis Daily, “is that up to today there is still no definite legal relationship between the media and the monitoring of public power, and the right to conduct watchdog journalism has not been afforded adequate protection. When officials are happy, they can give out watchdog journalism prizes, when they are unhappy they can keep [news] from seeing the light of day”.
The latter portion of today’s news article in People’s Daily, in which the reporter paraphrases the words of a Chenzhou spokesperson, follows:
During the forum a spokesperson from the municipal party committee of Chenzhou said that in the last year Chenzhou had not only suffered its worst natural disasters in 500 years, but had also seen a series of corrupt actions by the former party secretary, Li Dalun (李大伦), that had a profound negative impact [on Chenzhou]. Prior to this the municipal propaganda department had issued its “Three Mustn’ts” in a document targeted at watchdog journalism, [saying] “outside media must not be provided with news sources; outside journalists must not be received; and outside media must not be joined or cooperated with”.
[Chenzhou] learned lessons from bitter experience. The party and government leaders of Chenzhou believe that to build a harmonious society requires taking further steps to emphasize and bring into play support for the news media and its monitoring role. Building a splendid and harmonious Chenzhou requires taking further steps to create an ideal environment for public opinion and the propagating of information. They [the Chenzhou leadership] said: it is inconceivable that Chenzhou, with a population of 4.6 million, will not give rise to problems. If we focus only on achievements and do not face real problems head on, if we listen only to praise and do not countenance criticism … then we cannot make forward progress in our work, and [social] conflict will grow worse and worse. Criticism shakes us from our complacency, [so] supervision is support. It was for these reasons that [the Chenzhou government] released its “Opinion”.
Facing the controversy brought on by the “watchdog journalism prize”, Chenzhou’s party secretary [top leader] Ge Hongyuan (葛洪元), said that releasing news was a means and promoting the work [of the leadership] the end goal. The “watchdog journalism prize” [he said] was not just for show … [He] hoped that in the process of carrying out watchdog journalism, the information gathered by the media, the stories told, the problems discovered, could be organized and transmitted as quickly as possible to the party and government [in Chenzhou], to be gathered and considered.
[Posted by David Bandurski, January 25, 2007, 5:49pm]