Last week we posted a piece by pseudonymous veteran reporter Shi Yige (施一戈) in which he spoke in quite pessimistic terms about the decline of commercial newspapers and magazines in China as drivers of public opinion. According to Shi, these media enjoyed their “golden era” from 1995 to 2005. Since that time, however, they have been brought to heel by tighter propaganda controls — even as internet-based media have eroded their business models.
But against this rather grim picture, it is worth noting that we can still find plenty of examples of how journalism is alive and kicking at these “metro media” (都市类媒体).
On Weibo and WeChat, users are chattering today about a front-page report in yesterday’s edition of Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post, a commercial newspaper published by the Wenhui Xinmin United Press Group [Here on our Media Map].
The report, “Pingdu Brews Tragedy with Rapid Push for Urbanization” (平度强力推进城镇化酿惨剧), takes an in-depth look at conflicts over land and urban development in a community on the northern outskirts of the city of Qingdao. The report, which occupies the first three pages of the March 23 Oriental Morning Post, comes at a time when China’s leadership has focused on urbanization as a primary driver of future economic growth.
Sina Weibo user “Newspaper Observer” (@报纸观察) wrote of the report today: “The huge, three-page report in yesterday’s edition of Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post takes a broad and deep look at the tragedies caused already in Pingdu, in Qingdao, by the pushing of urbanization. We salute media who tell the truth!”
Many users on social media also noted that page three of the report mentions the case of Caixin reporter Chen Baocheng (陈宝成), who was detained last year by police in Pingdu while reporting on land disputes there. (The August 12, 2013, statement from Caixin is here).
The passage on page three that mentions Chen Baocheng reads simply: “According to a villager [who identified himself as] Mr. Li, on August 9 last year, before 84 mu of land was listed for auction — on the same night, in fact, that rights defense journalist Chen Baocheng was arrested — 138 mu of crop and orchard land was destroyed with diggers.”
Just to give readers a general flavor of the Oriental Morning Post report, a (very) partial translation follows:
Pingdu Brews Tragedy with Rapid Push for Urbanization
Li Yunfang (李云芳)
Oriental Morning Post
“One dead and three injured, but what really happened that night? If the fire was set deliberately, who was responsible? . . . “
Yesterday, the official Weibo account of the People’s Daily issued a post . . . demanding that open responses be made, and full and accurate explanations given, so that ironclad facts can convince those who still have lingering doubts, so that the public can see justice done.
On March 21 at around 1:50AM, a fire broke out in a tent erected in a field in Dujiatuan Village, in the Fengtai sub-district of Pingdu City in Shandong Province. [The incident] resulted in the death of one farmer and injuries of varying extent to three others. According to a preliminary investigation by local police, arson is suspected.
A Xinhua News Agency reporter confirmed yesterday that there have been tensions in Dujiatuan Village over land seizure issues since last year. According to villagers, there have been illegal land seizures at Dujiatuan, and about 200 mu of land has been taken by developers, for which villagers received only crop compensation of about 25,000 yuan per mu. But according to regulations, land requisition compensation should include land compensation and resettlement assistance in addition to compensation for crops and other property on the land.
Because they were unhappy with the compensation, beginning on March 9 this year, the villagers erected a tent at the entrance to a local building worksite, arranging for people to stand guard there 24 hours a day in order to prevent the continuation of work. They demanded adequate compensation in accordance with the law.
After the fire, local media quoted villagers as saying that on the night it happened four villagers responsible for looking after the land were inside the tent, which was then doused with fuel on all four sides and ignited. Ultimately, three of the people got out of the tent with varying injuries, but unfortunately 63 year-old villager Geng Fulin moved to slowly and died.
Right now, there are many different theories about the cause of the fire. According to the official Weibo of the Pingdu City Propaganda Department, “Pingdu Release” (平度发布), the injured were all villagers from Dujiatuan who objected to the distribution of land proceeds by the village committee.
On his Weibo account, the scholar Yu Jianrong shared the words of someone claiming to be the project’s “general contractor”: “The village cadres used the compensation funds to invest in commercial projects for the village committee. The villagers objected to this. They sought out the village chief and and the government, but this did no good, so they came directly to the worksite to stick a wrench in the gears, forcing us workers to stop work.” This so-called “general contractor” also voiced his own doubts that this was arson.
In Yu Jianrong’s view, the taking of villager’s land in the name of urbanization has already caused many bloody episodes [in China]. “Concerning whether or not this was arson, and who was responsible, the police need to do a thorough investigation. But we also need to be clear about why the villagers were defending the land in the first place.”