What can you trust in China these days? An investigative journalist who says a well-known company has allegedly been manipulating its financial results? Or the company that denies that point-blank? How about a police force that crosses provincial lines to arrest the “offending” journalist on suspicion of damaging that company’s commercial reputation?
Above all, can we now trust the confession of the journalist – paraded on state TV with head shaved and in handcuffs – admitting that he was paid to falsify those stories?
On the face of it, Chen Yongzhou’s confession is a terrible blow for the credibility of a new type of Chinese media, independent from the government and bent on exposing wrongdoing. Mr Chen’s newspaper, the New Express, issued an embarrassing retraction on Sunday, saying that it had not properly checked the stories and that the incident had “seriously damaged the credibility of the media”. Until the weekend, the newspaper had mounted a vigorous and unusually daring defense of Mr Chen, running consecutive front-page stories urging authorities to “Please release him.” Now it has been forced to eat humble pie.
The apology could undermine public faith in a more investigative crop of newspapers, many of them, like New Express, located in the relatively more liberal province of Guangdong. It will also focus attention on a grubby fact of Chinese journalism – that bribes are regularly paid to suppress stories or to encourage critical coverage of personal or commercial rivals. Authorities may also use the incident to pour scorn on foreign journalists who, they will say, are too eager to believe muckraking stories, and too quick to assume that all arrests are politically motivated.
Yet the real lesson of Mr Chen’s case is not that newspapers sometimes get stories wrong – if that indeed turns out to be the case – nor even that they are sometimes as corrupt as the targets of their investigations. In aggregate, the new breed of Chinese media has done the public a service in shining a light into the darker crevices of society.
Above all, the incident highlights the weakness of China’s institutions. Parading someone on TV is no substitute for due legal process. Nor is the fact that the Changsha police appear to have overstepped their authority in dashing to Guangdong to arrest Mr Chen, making a criminal case out of what many lawyers consider a civil matter. Zoomlion, the company Mr Chen had accused of inflating its profits, is based in Changsha, where it is partly owned by the Hunan provincial government. That begs the question of precisely who the police thought they were protecting and on whose authority they were acting.
The most likely conclusion the Chinese public will draw is that nothing can be believed and no one can be trusted. A plague on all their houses! That is hardly unique to China. Even more open and democratic societies are facing a crisis of public faith in institutions. But in China, that lack of trust – whether in the media or in the results of listed companies, whether in the courts or in the safety of food – has reached epidemic proportions.Source: Blogs.ft.com – Chen’s confession: who to trust in China now?
- Chinese Reporter Says on State TV He Filed Fake Reports for Cash (bloomberg.com)
- Chinese paper apologizes after reporter confesses (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- In stunning about-face, China paper issues public apology as reporter ‘confesses’ to bribery (worldnews.nbcnews.com)
- Chinese state TV shows journalist confessing to taking bribes (theguardian.com)
- Chinese Newspaper Apologizes Over Journalist’s Zoomlion Reports (thejakartaglobe.com)
- Chinese Newspaper Asks Police to Free Detained Reporter (sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Detained Chinese Journalist Confesses On State TV (huffingtonpost.com)
- Chinese Newspaper Urges Police to Release Reporter (theepochtimes.com)
- Chinese State Media: Growing Concern About Detained Journalist (voanews.com)