What is the role of media in China?

A professor at Peking University seems to think that any media outlet that runs a story critical of a government agency should be sued and shut down. (Are Chinese media a public nuisance?)

Kong Qingdong,  a China studies professor,recently said that “Journalists are a major public nuisance in our country. If these journalists were all lined up and shot, I would feel heartache for not a single one of them.”

Specifically Kong was commenting on Guangdong’s Nanfang Media Group, which has well-deserved reputation for serious outspoken coverage of hard news. It often receives criticism from government agencies for its in-depth and investigative coverage.

Kong said earlier this month: “I believe that the people of China should sue the Nanfang newspaper group, which every day defiles the revolutionary martyrs [of the country], besmirches the Party and the national government, and debases the Chinese people.”

You will notice that his comments fit the official Chinese government and ruling party ideas about the responsibilities and duties of journalism. Loyalty is first to the Communist Party, then to the national and local governments and then the people.

Compare that to the SPJ Code of Ethics that states in the preamble: “The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty.”

And then later: “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.”

The Nanfang Media Group operates publications that are arguably China’s most respected professional newspapers, including the Southern Metropolis Daily, Southern Weekly and Southern Metropolis Weekly. These publications regularly push the envelope of Chinese censorship. Often with serious consequences to its staff.

Editors and reporters from these news organizations have regularly been punished and fined by the national and local governments for their reporting. Some have been fired. Some exiled to distant provinces and some prosecuted.

Kong issued his view of the Nanfang group’s form of journalism after he was asked about statements made by the top official in Choingqing’s security bureau, Wang Lijun.

During a police conference on October 16, 2010, Wang Lijun said that his agency would sue any media organization or journalist who attacked the reputation of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau or the civil police force. He added that the bureau would assist individual civil police officers in filing suits if any were singled out for media attention.

To their credit, many journalists and news organizations stepped up to attack Kong for his attacks on journalists.

Guangzhou’s Yangcheng Evening News warned its readers about the overt Cultural Revolution overtones in Kong’s remarks.

“Kong Qingdong has made no secret of the fact that he is infatuated with the culture of the Cultural Revolution and beautifies the Cultural Revolution era,” the editorial said. “These calumnies that have so shocked people and filled them with unease are legacies of the language of the Cultural Revolution.”

Just so everyone remembers, the Cultural Revolution most likely caused more deaths than any other man-made event and set back China’s development by decades.

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Filed under Asia, China, Press Freedom

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