Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Review: China’s journalists find chinks in the state’s armor

Watchdog journalism has flourished in China over the past decade as reporters and editors risk their careers and sometimes their lives to expose official corruption and government malfeasance

Despite strong control of information by the state, the characterization of Chinese journalism as invariably propagandistic and uncritical of the authorities is an unfair one. For a minority of reporters, watchdog journalism is their raison d’etre, a calling that forces them to play a constantly shifting game of cat-and-mouse with the state apparatus and corrupt local politicians who, more often than not, are the object of their reportage.

This noble tradition finds its roots in baogao wenxue (報告文學), or reportage literature, which artfully blends fact and fiction to expose actual events. One of the pioneers of the genre was the China Youth Daily’s Liu Binyan (劉賓雁), whose stories exposing injustice in the 1950s earned him the designation of “rightist” and landed him in a re-education camp until the late 1970s. Only during the period of soft liberalization in the 1980s, however, did investigative journalism in a form recognizable to Western news consumers emerge in China, especially after then-premier Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) in 1987 incorporated the term yulun jiandu (輿論監督), which literally means “supervision by public opinion,” into his annual report to party leaders.

This form of journalism is the subject of Investigative Journalism in China, which explores eight cases of watchdog journalism as told from the perspective of the prominent reporters themselves, who were invited to the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong to share their experiences.

This book review, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here (html) and here (pdf).

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