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Thursday, October 06, 2005

China: How investigative journalism can lead into prison

The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's leading English language paper, reports the story of Chen Feng, a Chinese investigative journalist. In 2003, when he was working for the Southern Metropolis Daily, Chen investigated the story of 27-year-old Sun Zhigang, who had been arrested for not carrying his tempory-residence permit and was beaten to death in police custody in a prison in Guangzhou. The paper's editor gave Chen and his colleague Wang Lei one month to investigate the story. The two journalists found the family of Sun and convinced them of demanding an autopsy.

South China Morning Post states, "They (the journalists) marshalled all the facts and printed the story before authorities got wind of the investigation, so they could not order the topic off-limits. The article caused shockwaves across the country. Follow-up reports exposed a network of custody-of-repatriation camps that bought and sold prisoners like slaves. The unprecedented swell of public outrage forced Beijing to close all the camps and abolish the draconian law that gave police the authority to jail people at will."

The story was a big victory, but soon cadres took revenge. A large investigation into the management of the paper was launched. Chen was detained for some months. Two of his colleagues were sentenced to long prison terms "on tenuous charges of financial impropriety". Chen, who was shipped out of Guangzhou and is now editor of Beijing News, said, "We have no evidence of course, but everyone knows the investigation was related to my story."

China is clearly no good place for investigative journalism. Besides the fear of retribution, also the pay scheme, where journalists are paid according to the number of articles they write, is not encouraging investigative, time-consuming reporting. Chen said, "One
day, everything will get better, but the question is when ... I tell people no, no - don't go into journalism. It is not a good career here now." Fortunately, there are still many idealistic media professionals that do not follow his advise, concludes the South China Morning Post.

Last news about China (provided by WARC): advertising sales company Beijing Media Corporation is embroiled in a corruption scandal. Six employees - including two vps - have been taken into police custody on suspicion of bribery. The company, which sells ad space for the Communist Party controlled Beijing Youth Daily newspaper, is also carrying out an internal investigation.

Source: South China Morning Post

Posted by Anna-Maria Mende on October 6, 2005 at 11:44 AM | Permalink

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