Over the weekend, Modern Express (现代快报), a newspaper published by the Jiangsu bureau of the official Xinhua News Agency, ran an article called “China’s muckrakers: walking the razor’s edge.” The article reviewed in a general sense the current state of investigative reporting in China, drawing on interviews with CMP fellows Wang Keqin (王克勤) and Liu Chang (刘畅), and Oriental Morning Post reporter Jian Guangzhou (简光洲).
Although the article is at points perhaps a bit melodramatic, it nevertheless is a good basic look at the practice (and practitioners) of what is often in China called “supervision by public opinion,” or yulun jiandu (舆论监督).
On a related note, Rednet.cn (红网) ran an interesting editorial yesterday decrying the abuse of the power of “supervision by public opinion” and the practice of “news extortion,” essentially the use of purported investigative news reports to extract payoffs from companies or government agencies.
The Rednet editorial, which bears a mildly conservative Party tone — criticizing, for example, the pursuit of “negative reports” — makes a very interesting statement about Party and government policy on “cross-regional reporting,” or yidi jiandu (异地监督), media from one administrative region reporting stories in another in order to avoid censure from their immediate Party and government superiors.
It is widely known in journalism circles in China that a 2004 document at the highest levels of the CCP effectively prohibited the practice of “cross-regional reporting,” but there have rarely ever been open references to this document, and the practice has continued where media are capable of pushing.
The Rednet editorial says at one point: “The Central Propaganda Department and the General Administration of Press and Publications have a document clearly stipulating that various regional media and industry publications cannot carry out cross-regional and cross-industry supervision by public opinion.” It’s not clear exactly what the document referenced here is, but it is presumably the same one cited by journalists since 2004.
China’s muckrakers: walking the razor’s edge
Modern Express (现代快报)
December 5, 2010
Wang Keqin, Jian Guangzhou, Liu Chang . . . At first glance you might find these names unfamiliar. But the inside stories they have exposed are ones with which you are undoubtedly familiar — the Shanxi vaccine scandal, the Sanlu poisoned milk scandal, the Fanshi mining disaster cover-up . . . Each time it is their reports that allow us to face head on the shocking and harrowing truth. Each time it is their reports that promote social progress, carrying us closer to safe and light-filled lives. They are the “muckrakers” (扒粪工) of China’s news landscape, they are China’s investigative reporters, they are the conscience of society, and the watchdogs standing guard over our interests.
On November 29, Jianghuai Morning News reported how a reporter from their newspaper was attacked by a mob outside a hospital while reporting on a medical malpractice claim, and how one male attacker threatened: “We’ll kill you however it pleases us.” This unpredictable danger is something investigative reporters deal with on a regular basis. The process of exposing inside stories is never smooth going, and investigative reporters must endure not only the threat of physical harm, but also the risk of lawsuits and threats to the safety and well-being of their family members. Motivated by a thirst for the truth and ideals of professional journalism, they plod ahead. They push on, all for a dream.
In the “2010 Honorary Prizes for Promoters of the China Dream,” held by [Guangdong’s] Southern Weekly newspaper, Wang Keqin, who has been called “China’s top investigative reporter” stood alongside [economist] Wu Jinglian (吴敬琏), [film director] John Woo (吴宇森) and others to be honored. As Wang Keqin stood onstage at Peking University’s Memorial Hall (北大百年讲堂) as a representative of the media world, the China dream of the media was shown before all — [the hope] that power will be better regulated, and that our society will be more pure. Without a doubt, the investigative reporters of which Wang Keqin, Jian Guangzhou and Liu Chang are representative are the trailblazers of the China dream for the media. And the condition in which they live merits greater attention from society.
It was harder to reach Wang Keqin than I supposed at first. Not answering unknown calls is a habit he has developed over years of risky work. After a colleague introduced Wang Keqin he finally returned my call. It was only just past three in the afternoon, but the voice on the line was extremely weary. Wang Keqin told me that after years of working as an investigative reporter, he’s become accustomed to resting whenever the opportunity comes, so whenever he has a spare moment, whatever the time, he makes it a point to sleep for a bit. “As soon as I get working, it can be days before I get any sleep,” he said.
This middle-aged man, 46 years old, has been called China’s top investigative reporter, and colleagues have even dubbed him “China’s Lincoln Steffens” (a reference to the great American muckraker). Wang’s first major story was “Securities Black Market in Lanzhou Washes Out ‘Stockholders'”, a 2001 investigation that shook the securities industry . . . Hundreds are now locked up in jail because of these early reports, but Wang Keqin too paid the price. In November 2001, a five million yuan price was put on his head by forces in the criminal underworld, and he was eventually fired by his publication.
China Economic Times, a newspaper whose motto is “responsible to the reader, responsible to history,” has become the latest launching ground for Wang Keqin’s work. Here he has found an environment well suited to his investigative nature. In 2002, [in his first major report for China Economic Times] Wang Keqin completed his expose, “The Inside Story of Beijing’s Taxi Cartels,” which again shook the whole country.
Since that report, other exposes have come, including “An Investigation into the Truth Behind AIDS in Xingtai, Hebei”, and “Shanxi’s ‘Poisonous Coal'”. Wang Keqin’s most recent investigative report, published in March this year, was “An Investigation into Careless Vaccination in Shanxi.” One after another these revelations have come out, all at the hands of this middle-aged man, and it has been said that he “is like an army unto himself, with infantry and cavalry at his fingertips, riding in terrible waves.”
Wang Keqin’s phone conversations are often interrupted, because he often receives calls from informants and others with grievances to air out. But he takes this in stride. “I can’t handle many of these complaints. I’m only one person after all, and I have limited energy,” he said. On Wang Keqin’s microblog, the personal message function is open to all, and this is also an important source of story leads. At times, he’ll receive more than a hundred messages in a single day. Most of these, of course, he cannot possibly deal with, and he feels sorry he can do nothing for these people seeking help — but
what option does he have.
“My greatest torment is facing the eyes of all of these people desperately seeking help, and knowing I have no way of reporting all of their stories,” Wang said. The unique torments of this profession, says Wang Keqin, should also serve as the basic driving force of investigative reporters. If you feel cold at the pains suffered by others, he says, you are not cut out to be a journalist.
There is a limit to what one person can accomplish, and “China needs many more professional investigative journalists,” says Wang. This is something that deeply affects Wang Keqin, China’s top investigative reporter. With this in mind, he is determined to spend more time taking part in various lectures and training, telling more and more young people about his experiences working as an investigative reporter over the years, such things as how to preserve evidence and how to protect oneself. “There are also times when a reporter must learn the art of makeup,” Wang Keqin laughs. “Once, after completing an interview, I had to make myself up as a peasant in order to get away from the scene safely.”
Wang Keqin now spends a great deal of energy as well on gathering together his interviews and experiences for a book that might be valuable for more investigative reporters. “The book should be ready next year or the year after,” he says. “Right now, the portion about my interviews and reporting experiences is basically finished, and I’m in the process of organizing the background stories of my exposes.” Most recently, Wang Keqin has traveled to Guangzhou to share his experiences on investigative reporting with young journalists there.
[Article again addresses the dangers to Wang Keqin and his family members]
But Wang Keqin continues to work on. “There is no way I can see such pain and look the other way,” he says. This is what drives him on. Wang sums up his own journalism principles as “treating people as people, judge other’s feelings by one’s own; speak as a human being, and act as a human being” (把人当人，将心比心；说人话，做人事).
He believes that supervision by public opinion [or “watchdog journalism”] is useful on three levels. First, in a micro-level sense, it protects the rights of particular citizens, directly assisting concrete victims. Secondly, in a mid-level sense, it can influence the public policies of local governments or even the central Party and government, not only helping the people concerned but more importantly serving as a force of change for the larger system nationwide. Thirdly, in a macro-level sense, investigative reporting is a revealing of the truth, and when the truth is continually conveyed to the public, this can have an additive effect (累加效应). This impact is gradual, and we can’t always see it happening or put our finger on it, but it is the most important overall impact.
As to the future prospect of investigative reporters [in China], Wang Keqin, who says he believes he “can still keep going for another 10 years,” remains optimistic overall.
While there are many limitations, and perhaps half of all reports cannot ever be published owing to various pressures, and even while he jokes that “in opposition to controls, I’m tilting at windmills,” Wang Keqin still feels that there’s so much to do in a China in the midst of transition, and that there are so many inside stories to be exposed.
媒体 时间 事件
江淮晨报 11月25日 合肥现代(女子)妇科医院记者被打
南方都市报 11月7日 记者在东莞虎门采访一宗纠纷时遭治安员围殴
西安晚报 9月1日 记者暗访油毛毡黑作坊遭十几人围殴
山东电视台 8月10日 记者在德州采访火灾时遭一群黑衣人殴打
北京电视台 8月1日 郭德纲徒弟李鹤彪殴打记者
每日经济新闻 7月30日 报社遭到疑似霸王集团员工冲击，记者被打
中央电视台 7月5日 记者在山西运城采访防洪水库建别墅时被打
生活新报 3月27日 记者采访昆明城管与小贩冲突时，遭多名执法人员围殴
□快报记者 赵勇 倪宁宁