Odious Debts

China’s reporters face a backlash over investigations

by Geoffrey A. Fowler and Jason Dean, The Wall Street Journal

December 21, 2006

Beijing: In a country where media censorship is national policy, Liu Jianqiang has pulled off some remarkable journalistic scoops. When a wealthy socialite struck and killed a farmer with her BMW in northeastern China three years ago — and then got off with a slap on the wrist — it was Mr. Liu, an investigative reporter from out of town, who dug deep into the case.

Local reporters who had been hushed up by government officials passed him information on irregularities in the way prosecutors handled the trial. The result was a widely read story that suggested corruption influenced the verdict. Within days of the article’s publication, the government ordered an official investigation. A prosecutor in the case was later convicted of receiving bribes on the BMW and other cases, and sentenced to six years in prison.

“There are people who don’t want things to come out,” says Mr. Liu. “But there are always other people who do.”

Today, China’s government is waging a media crackdown on such hard-hitting reports. Some officials fear that investigative reporting feeds public discontent over social ills such as rampant pollution, a growing wealth gap, and especially corruption. Prominent editors at publications around the country have lost their jobs. A law under review in China’s legislature could make it much more difficult for reporters like Mr. Liu to investigate emergencies and dig up wrongdoing in distant towns and villages. Mr. Liu’s journalistic successes and the pressure he and his peers now face reflect the Chinese leadership’s deep ambivalence toward the press. Journalists have become an effective tool for rooting out corruption, one of China’s most intractable problems. They also unnerve Communist Party rulers fearful of unrest and any challenge to their authority. Read the full story.

Categories: Odious Debts

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