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China Media Project Fellow Reports on Yan Bingguang Case

Chang Ping, a fellow of the JMSC’s China Media Project (CMP) and one of China’s leading journalists, has written an article about ethics in journalism in response to the recent firing of a state journalist in China.

Chang Ping

The article, published in the South China Morning Post on December 28, 2010, first appeared in Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post and was translated from Chinese into English by CMP Research Associate, David Bandurski.

Yan Bingguang is a Chinese state journalist who was fired from China’s Xinhua News Agency for repeatedly citing examples of her family in her reporting. Her lazy journalism became the subject of ridicule on the internet, thus embarrassing her employer.

“According to Xinhua and many Web users, Yan’s conduct stems from poor professional ethics and a lack of regard for media credibility,” wrote Chang. “The work of the journalist is largely the work of conscience. Those who aren’t interested in the public’s right to know or in social justice would do best to stay clear of this profession. And yet, as it happens, our profession is full of the crooked and the shifty. It’s only that many journalists are more clever than Yan in concealing their crimes.”

While Yan’s reports tended to be about everyday life rather than serious subjects or politics, Chang writes of his concern that Xinhua’s editors did not pick up on her using family as sources, which is unethical for journalists.

However, he thinks that the trifling nature of all of her reports exemplifies the real problem with the media in China, which is that most of the events that make the news are trifling and insubstantial. In other words, the real news is kept from the population, who are instead spoonfed inconsequential “news”.

“We see the same reports every year, repeated endlessly,” concluded Chang. “They don’t require real reporting, and there are so many journalists who turn to those near and dear for help to accommodate this appetite for empty news. And so long as such reports persist, it will make little difference that a single Yan Bingguang has been fired from her news post.”

“Chang Ping is one of the most important professional journalists working in China today, but unfortunately he has been under a great deal of pressure this year,” said Bandurski. “I think it’s great that we can help familiarise a broader English-language readership with his views on Chinese current affairs.”

Articles written by fellows of the China Media Project and translated by Bandurski are published regularly in the SCMP.