China’s Reporters are Dancing in Shackles

November 28, 2011 Updated: December 4, 2011

China, a country with one of the world’s worst records of media censorship and jailing of reporters, observed its very own “Journalist Day” on Nov. 8. For communist authorities it was a day of celebration. For Chinese journalists it was a reminder of the burdens they shoulder.

Among numerous official celebrations and propaganda pieces that filled Chinese media on Chinese Journalist Day, the most noteworthy one was a directive by the heads of propaganda departments of local communist Party offices, which reiterated the importance of journalists “firmly grasping the correct direction of public opinion.”

Another example of a Journalist Day message was being spread from the regime controlled Tibet Radio: “We must thoroughly expose and criticize the reactionary nature of the Dalai [Lama] group, seize the Internet to combat the high ground of public opinion on Tibet, [and] control the outreach media initiatives.”

And what were Chinese journalists saying on that day?

“Another Journalist Day, and media technology has been continuously advancing, but there are not many journalists with moral values left,” a reporter from China’s Yahoo News center said on, China’s largest microblogging site.

Cao Lin, editor of China Youth Daily, said: “On previous Journalist Days, we used to ask for press freedom and protection from violence against reporters. This year, we will strive for the right to reject fake news. In order to not publish fake news, the first thing is to reject news templates approved by authorities, which are used to manipulate public opinion and silence different voices. They are the start of fake news reports.”

Chen Wending, a Southern Metropolis reporter, said: “China now has over 1 million people in journalism. Although the reality is cruel, dark, and makes us feel helpless sometimes, we still have hope.”

The Cost of Reporting the Truth

“The job of the press and electronic media [in China] is to promote the government, not to report the truth,” Chinese author Murong Xuecun said in a recent speech at the Oslo House of Literature, reprinted by the Sydney Morning Herald on Nov. 25.

Reporting the truth that makes the regime look bad comes with a high price in China. Journalists face being fired or being physically attacked in the streets.

Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2010 world press index placed China 8th from the last of 178 countries and regions surveyed. In Nov. 2010, 31 journalists and 75 netizens were detained in China, which is on the RFS list of “Enemies of the Internet” and is ranked 171st out of 178 countries in its latest world press index, RSF said on its website.

Two of the most recent casualties of Chinese communist authorities’ crackdown on journalists are Chen Jieren and Shi Yu.

Chen was Chief Editor at the Jiangsu online edition of People’s Daily. He said he was fired because he criticized the government too much. “The Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machine cannot hire those who don’t cooperate,” Chen said.

Shi is an investigative reporter who visited blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng. He resigned from the Economy & Nation Weekly, which is owned by the regime’s mouthpiece Xinhua News. Shi was the first reporter to lose his job because of his reporting on Chen Guangcheng, Deutsche Welle said on Oct. 21.

Another publication, Great Wall Monthly, was forced to suspend its operations. Zhu Shunzhong, the chief editor along with ten staff members left the magazine. The primary reason for the shut down was political retaliation, according to a previous Epoch Times report. Zhu has been involved in the drafting of a ballot campaign to elect an independent candidate for mayor of Zhengzhou. Zhu is also said to have been reporting on human rights in China.

In September, Southern Metropolis reporter Ji Xuguang, who broke the sex slave scandal in Luoyang City, was harassed and threatened by local officials. Ji was accused of disclosing “state secrets.” He asked for help via Weibo and escaped Luoyang City with his wife and his brother. Ji is said to have scars all over his body from violence he encountered during the ten years of his career as a reporter.

In July the investigative news department of China Economics Times, where celebrated Chinese journalist Wang Keqin worked, was closed down.

On May 12, the third anniversary of the Sichuan Earthquake, Southern Metropolis published an article criticizing shoddy construction of buildings–referred to as “tofu-dregs projects” in China–while supporting artist Ai Weiwei. The author, Song Zhibiao, was forced to resign.

Deng Cunyao, a reporter for Fujian Province Longyan City Television, was attacked on his way to work in October 2010. Deng suffered a broken leg and was left disabled. The reason for the attack was that Deng accused the director of Longmen Clinic of embezzlement of compensation money meant for village doctors.

In August 2010, the Guangdong Provincial Propaganda Department banned renowned commentator and reporter Chang Ping from publishing on the Southern Metropolis. Chang’s reports are mostly breaking news commentaries and criticism aimed at the regime. Chang was previously silenced after the publication of his March 14, 2010 report on the Tibetan protests.

China Youth Daily said that many Chinese journalists feel a deep sense of helplessness after hitting a wall, time and time again, in their pursuit of freedom. Journalistic ethics in China has hit the lowest level. “When journalists cannot protect themselves and their families, how can they monitor the powerful, maintain fairness, or try to protect the less privileged?”

Zhan Jiang, a proponent of press freedom in China, told Deutsche Welle: “Ever since the 80’s, there has been a saying that Chinese journalists are dancing in shackles. Almost 28 years have passed, the situation remains the same.”

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