It’s that time of year again when journalists assemble their best stories of the past year and enter them in local and national competitions. (Enter plug here for the national SDX awards and the Washington, D.C. SPJ Dateline Awards.)
And journalists around the world assemble the Top 10 or Top 100 stories of the previous year.
China is no different. But getting the government media masters to agree with the journalists and the people about what constitutes the top stories is something else.
One of the great things about Hong Kong is that it is the only place under the rule of Beijing that has a free press and all the civil rights that go with it.
As a result, journalists and academics in Hong Kong can honestly assess the media situation in mainland China.
Thanks to the China Media Project at Hong Kong University we get to see how Chinese journalists in China are pushing the envelope every day.
If it were up to the guys in Beijing who try to control all the news, the top stories would be about the glorious growth in the Chinese economy and all the great speeches made at the party congress.
Fortunately we have the CMP and its director Ying Chan to talk about the real top stories in China.
An already tight atmosphere for the press in China has continued to tighten in recent weeks. Most recently, the news retrospectives Chinese media have typically compiled at year’s end in recent years have come under pressure. Guangdong’s Southern Weekend, a newspaper with a reputation for bolder news coverage, had published its annual list of distinguished journalists and media, “Salute to the Media,” every year since 2001. But authorities put a stop to the list last month, the latest in a series of unfortunate warning signs.
The first hints of trouble for news retrospectives and similar lists came in early December, as Time Weekly, published by the Guangdong Provincial Publishing Group, invited a group of scholars to select a list of “100 Most Influential People of Our Time.” The list included the recently jailed food safety activist Zhao Lianhai and several signers of the Charter 08 political manifesto, including Beijing Film Academy professor Cui Weiping and renowned scholar Xu Youyu.
Time Weekly‘s list of 100 influential people included artists, grassroots activists, educators, lawyers, officials, public intellectuals, scientists, entrepreneurs and journalists, all seen as having, as the newspaper wrote, “an irreplaceable influence on public life this year and on the development of our times.” The list was received well in China and drew attention from international media as well, all surprised at the publication’s boldness. But an order quickly came down for the recall of copies of the newspaper in circulation, and the list and related coverage was deleted from the Time Weekly website. Peng Xiaoyun, the chief editor of Time Weekly‘s opinion section, who had been in charge of the list, was placed on involuntary leave.
Note that the list was “received well in China and drew attention from international media” but was quickly shut down by the central authorities. That’s about par for the course.
It is exciting to see reporters and editors push against the confines the political masters try to create. I like to think that improved technology — the Internet and mobile phones — and exposure to the West and those “dangerous” ideas of press freedom and real reporting are helping move Chinese journalists away from Communist party note takers to real journalists.