China details news extortion cases in official bulletin and tells newspapers to clean up their news bureaus

Chinese media ran an official bulletin, or tong bao (通报), detailing acts of news extortion (新闻敲诈) allegedly carried out by journalists from the provincial bureaus of four nationally-circulated newspapers. The bulletin, which called on newspapers to “further normalize the news reporting activities of reporters at their news bureaus” by ratcheting up their internal supervision mechanisms, was issued on May 15 by the official Xinhua News Agency and carried forceful warnings from the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP), China’s government minders for the publishing sector.

The cases outlined in the bulletin were not in fact new. For example, the second of the four cases in question concerned the actions of Meng Huaihu (孟怀虎), the former Zhejiang bureau chief for China Commercial Times, a business paper published by the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce (ACFIC).

Meng was quietly removed from his position last year after he allegedly tried to force an advertising contract from China Petroleum and Chemical Company (Sinopec) with the promise of an investigative report. China issued a ban on news coverage of the affair, which many insiders supposed was being resolved through backroom politics. Up to the release of the Xinhua bulletin, the only trace remaining of the China Commercial Times incident was a report from September 2005 in which ACFIC’s chairman called the incident “a painful lesson” and vowed that the paper would clean up its act by “grasping the lessons of the Marxist View of Journalism, [former President Jiang Zemin's] Three Represents and the Three Lessons [training program for media personnel, which emphasizes upholding the Party's principles in news work].”

So-called cases of “news extortion” have been on the rise in recent years as government support has been progressively withdrawn from the bulk of Chinese media, forcing them to compete for advertising revenues even as they retain their role as an arm of the party-state. With a glut of publications and many editors unable to create sharp editorial products to take advantage of the market, some “media professionals” are tempted to monetize the power vested in them as state organs to force advertising contracts from low-level government bodies and corporations.

The May 15 bulletin said reporters from “China Food Quality News” (中国食品质量报), China Commercial Times (中华工商时报), Economic Daily (经济日报), and China Industry News (中国工业报) had been involved in the extortion cases in question.

Other Coverage:
At People’s Daily Online in English
Reuters via Sydney Morning Herald

[Posted by David Bandurski, May 16, 2006, 12:35pm]

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