By David Bandurski — CMP wrote last week about China’s concerted campaign against “fake reporters” and “fake news,” and how it fails to address the core issue driving media corruption in the country — the state’s monopolization of the “right to report” as a vested power and privilege.
A recent news report from Hainan province demonstrates just how attractive press cards have become for charlatans looking to pull off lucrative scams.
Last week, a reporter from Nanhai Online accompanied authorities to a marketing event at which it seems heedless senior citizens were being lured into a health products marketing scam backed by what was purported to be “the Haikou circulation center of [Xi’an-based] Healthy Life Weekly.”
[ABOVE: Screenshot of online news coverage of the Nanhai Online story.]
As authorities and the Nanhai Online journalist gathered photographic evidence together at the scene — an interesting illustration itself of the underlying crisis of professional ethics caused by the blurring of lines between media and authorities — a man turned his own DV camera on them.
When the authorities asked why he was filming them, the man reportedly responded: “I’m a reporter from Healthy Life Weekly, and I have the right to report.”
But while the original Nanhai Online news story makes it clear that the questionable press card did not belong to the man who had it in his possession, subsequent reports, like this one, suggest the card was nonetheless issued by Healthy Life Weekly, a publication launched by Xi’an Commercial News, itself a spin-off of Xi’an Daily, the official party newspaper in the city of Xi’an. And the man to whom the card actually does belong, Wang Libao, was reportedly taking part in the marketing scam in Hainan.
So is Wang Libao a “fake reporter”? Or a “real reporter” committing illegal acts?
Here is the response by Xi’an Commercial News as reported in other media:
A spokesperson from Xi’an Commercial News said that the newspaper was closely watching this incident, and had decided so far to [handle the case by] erasing Wang Libao’s name [from its staff list] and ordering a self assessment and correction by its special publications division resulting in an in-depth report from the head of the division. The newspaper said the person’s behavior was personal, and expressed their deepest apologies for the negative impact and uncivil treatment of colleagues in the Hainan media.
The rest of the story follows below.
Journalist Hassled by Fake Reporter While on the Beat
On the morning of December 10, this reporter from Nanhai Online went with industrial and commercial authorities to investigative a health product sales “brain washing” racket and was threatened and pushed away by a man claiming to be a reporter for Healthy Life Weekly (健康生活周刊). Cultural authorities later confirmed that the so-called “press card” presented by this man was a fake.
Following the incident, the suspect was “invited” to the Haifu Police Substation in Haikou City for questioning. Cultural authorities from Hainan province and from the provincial office of the All-China Journalist’s Association arrived at the substation. Further investigation by cultural authorities confirmed that the card was not an authentic press card, nor did it belong to the man who had possession of it.
The cover of this “press card” was printed with the words “News Working Card.” The inside page was printed with words indicating that the bearer’s work unit was Healthy Life Weekly, that his name was Wang Libao (王立宝), and that he worked for the [magazine’s] special business column as a reporter. The document bore only the seal of Healthy Life Weekly.
Cultural authorities said that they established first off that this “press card” had not been issued by either the General Administration of Press and Publications or the State Administration of Radio Film and Television. Next, they established that the card did not belong to the bearer, and using another’s credentials to carry out reporting activities is illegal. Thirdly, even if the card had been authentic, it is not permissible for news workers to involve themselves in business activities.
After cultural authorities raised questions [about the document], the man changed his story, saying that the pass was in fact his friend’s and that he was borrowing it. But, he said, the document did belong to Zhang Libao, another worker involved here (in the marketing event). He also said that as the card was not his, he was not aware of the full situation. He mistakenly identified the publication’s sponsoring institution as Xi’an Daily instead of Xi’an Commercial News.
Further investigation showed that Wang Libao, the owner of the pass, had in fact been the very same man who had obstructed and hassled this reporter at the scene of the “brain washing” event.
Cultural authorities said they would further investigate whether or not the pass was issued by Healthy Life Weekly, and would make a report on the matter to the General Administration of Press and Publications, further pursuing those involved.
[Posted by David Bandurski, December 15, 2009, 2:15pm HK]