Investigative Journalism in China: Eight Cases in Chinese Watchdog Journalism, published by Hong Kong University Press, is a must-read for those interested in how the media operates in an ever-changing China.
David Bandurski, a researcher at the JMSC’s China Media Project, co-edited the book with Martin Hala, a sinologist who has taught at the Universities of Prague and Bratislava.
The China Media Project documents and analyses the process of media reform in China and the factors that influence it and looks at comparative experiences in other societies in transition, for example in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia.
The project works directly with editors, writers and producers from various media in China and invites veteran journalists from mainland China spend up to three months at the JMSC as Visiting Fellows.
The freedom in Hong Kong provides a forum in which they can discuss their stories and ideas openly.
The eight studies cited in the book, all experiences of visiting fellows, examine how investigative journalism flourished in China despite state censorship and other political control in the decade running up to 2003. They include accounts by Chinese reporters who have been brave enough to expose corruption and other misconduct, including foul play, in the media.
Examples include Liu Chang’s reports in the China Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League of China, on the cover-up of a deadly explosion at a gold mine in Shahe, Shangxi Province and Wang Keqin’s reports on the corruption of taxi firms in Beijing by transport officials in the China Economic Times, one of China’s leading business dailies.
“All of the cases show the victories made by investigative reporters but there’s another common strand that runs through the book which is the often futility of their work,” Bandurski said. “We often have the idea of Chinese journalists as propaganda stooges but we can’t overlook the very important work they are doing.”
The book also analyses how media control in China is changing. Bandurski thinks that media control is not so much about ideology and political identity any more but more about commercial interests.
Since 2003, the Chinese government has tightened up its own response to news stories, so, while it allows more coverage of breaking news in China, it has become better at putting out its own version of events quickly and stage managing the response to events so that the “right” message gets to the press.
“Our book is about a golden age of journalism in China because investigative journalism has become a lot harder since 2004,” Bandurski said.
He said Hu Jintao’s new media policy had opened things up on the one hand but has restricted journalists on the other: “State media still takes the lead and while there is more access to other journalists it is still very restricted. The policy stops in-depth reporting and prevents reflection on events.”
Bandurski hopes that the book will be popular among those who are studying China and the media, but also among people who have a more general interest in China and its politics.
“The book is not at all theoretical or abstract, so it should be of interest to anyone who is interested in China. The Chinese media provides a window through which to view China, so, if you’re interested in how an authoritarian state works, this book will interest you.”
The China Media Project is a JMSC initiative that started in 2003. It is directed by Qian Gang, a veteran Chinese journalist and well-known author of several books on journalism, and Professor Chan Yuen-ying, the founder and director of the JMSC.