“You are a citizen, and you are a journalist.” That was the message delivered to Web users across China earlier this summer by China Central Television’s “News Probe” investigative program and a Tianya discussion forum — much, say CMP sources, to the vexation of propaganda officials. The tension once again underscores the growing debate in China (given greater urgency by the spread of new media) over citizens’ rights, freedom of expression and state media control. [CMP on citizen journalism at QQ]. [CMP on amateur digital video reporters in Henan].
With an official announcement yesterday that nine central government offices are investigating party-government building projects in 30 provinces, issues with CCTV’s reporting on the topic also reveal incongruities between state censors and top government leaders. According to a CMP source, propaganda officials voiced opposition with the citizen-driven government building report after local party officials (probably unhappy about their own exposure) lodged complaints with the propaganda department. [IMAGE: Screenshot of New Express coverage of CCTV/Tianya gathering of government office building photos].


[More photos of government office buildings HERE]
On June 22, “News Probe” host Chai Jing posted a message on her blog explaining that “News Probe” was putting together a program on extravagant spending for government office buildings across China. She called on Web users to share photos and other information about such buildings in their communities:

You’ve never known how much has been spent on this building — and no one ever felt there was any need to tell you, even though the cost ran into the hundreds of millions and that money came right out of the monthly salary of people like you, and, if those funds weren’t sufficient, from your father’s pension fund or your mother’s medical coverage … When you studied political topics in secondary school, there was phrase about ‘how the citizens could carry out their right to monitor.’ What did that mean? From now on, when you pass it [your local government office], take up your camera and snap a photo, or write about it and send it to us. You are a citizen, and you are a journalist.

On June 23, Tianya Zatan, an online discussion forum, urged readers to post photos and other information on the site. The response was overwhelming. Within a few days photos had been posted of government buildings in Beijing, Shanghai, Hebei, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Sichuan, Guangdong and other places across China.
According to a report in yesterday’s New Express, by June 28, as the “News Probe” episode was in production, Chai Jing was cautioning Web users against exposing their real identities as they posted material. When respondents asked whether they should film other things, Chai Jing responded: “Go ahead and film, and not just government offices … Film whatever you want. It won’t necessarily make it into our program, but we can all share it together.”
The New Express quoted an editor at the Tianya forum as saying information shared by Web users was relayed to CCTV’s “News Probe” for investigation and verification. This cooperation is a further indication that Chinese traditional media are seeking new ways to combine traditional reporting and the power of the Web.
[Posted by David Bandurski, August 8, 2007, 2:39pm]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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