Saturday February 2, 2013
Exciting time for journalists
MADE IN CHINA By CHOW HOW BAN
IT’S an exciting time for journalists in China. Wrongdoings by officials, who have long been the target of public criticism, are now exposed more rampantly compared with the Mao Zedong days when such stories would only appear in limited state newspapers.
Not only do professional journalists have better access to stories of officials committing bribery or misconduct but common people have also turned into informers or citizen reporters to provide better supervision of the civil force.
Zhou Shuguang, a young IT technician from Hunan province, was touted as China’s first citizen reporter when he covered the story of a couple who refused to move out from their house in a standoff with the authorities and developer of a residential project in Chongqing city in 2007.
He interviewed the couple and posted news of the standoff on his blog which then generated more than 18 million views, grabbing wide attention from the domestic and Western media.
In 2008, he received donations from supporters to travel to Guizhou province’s Wengan county to report on a public riot against the local police over alleged power abuse.
Other high-profile citizen reporters include Liu Wanyong, Wang Keqing and Zhu Ruifeng, the man whose investigative reports on a city-wide sex scandal led to the fall of 11 government officials and businessmen in Chongqing two weeks ago.
Zhu, who runs a website (jdwsy.com) aimed at unifying public information and participation in fighting corruption, posted sex images and video of Lei Zhengfu, a former party chief of Chongqing’s Beibei district, on the portal last November.
Lei was then removed from his post within 63 hours following an investigation by the local disciplinary committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
Zhu apparently obtained the sex tapes from a suspect in an extortion scam masterminded by businessman Xiao Ye. The latter was alleged to have used young women to seduce officials, including Lei, and secretly film their sexual trysts for blackmail purposes.
In an interview with Phoenix TV in December, Zhu said the informer told him that contractors from outside Chongqing found it hard to secure project bids in the city, as many of them had been taken up by the officials’ cronies.
In order to gain more benefits, these contractors would hire pretty women to sleep with the officials, he said.
“Four o’clock in the evening (the time Zhu chose to first expose the scandal on Nov 20) is usually the time people get off work in Beijing. The possibility of the authorities filtering the Internet would be rather small.
“Our plan at that time was to post the gist of the story first and a highlight video clip edited into 36 seconds and then follow up with more stories,” he said.
Both Zhu and Zhou share something in common. They try to break away from the mainstream media which are heavily controlled by the state and enjoy dictating their own terms in their reporting jobs.
Zhou told Young Reporter magazine: “Citizen reporters do not depend on writing to make a living but normal reporters do. Citizen reporters in China do not need any licence to do their job but normal reporters need one.
“I will not do a redundant job. So, I will usually pay more attention to things that are not covered by the conventional media.”
As for Zhu, he just loves to see corrupt officials falling from grace.
“I love this job. Whenever I am doing investigative reports, people will keep asking me to produce the press card and letter requesting for an interview.
“Then I will tell them that the Constitution is my press card; the law gives us citizens the sacred right (to know),” he told Shenzhen Special Zone Daily in December.
Zhu said that in the past, the authorities would filter the Internet and black out information that his website released about corrupt practices by certain quarters.
“For instance, when I exposed an official from Shanxi province, the quarters from the province launched cyber attacks on me. At that time, our information was blocked a hundred times daily on average.
“Then we upgraded our technology and now, they basically would not be able to block us,” he added.
He said he was not fighting the corruption war all by himself as he would continue to depend on public information to expose more wrongdoings by officials.
Early this week, it was reported that Zhu still possessed unreleased sex tapes featuring other high-ranking officials. He apparently obtained the footage from a Chongqing police officer and had vowed to protect his identity.
Apart from people like Zhu, Zhou and other citizen reporters, many more informers have remained low-profile in providing breaking news stories on scandals involving officials.
From raunchy sex photos of People’s Congress deputies and local officials to scandals involving high-ranking police officers selling off their properties in Beijing amid news that the government would require officials to disclose their assets – more than half of this information came from the public.