Top officials order “swift” investigation into the murder of reporter Lan Chengzhang

City law-enforcement officials in Datong, Shanxi Province, announced at a press conference yesterday that they had made a breakthrough in the case of murdered reporter Lan Chengzhang, taking seven suspects into custody. Datong police launched a probe into the reporter’s murder under pressure from national and provincial officials, who reportedly ordered an investigation be carried out “swiftly”. [More coverage translated at ESWN]. [BELOW: Screen capture of news coverage on Lan Chengzhang investigation, Sina.com].

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A report from China News Service, available through major Web portals, said that after the incident happened “central, provincial and city leaders gave the case top priority”.

“CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao (胡锦涛), CCP Politburo Standing Committee Member Li Changchun (李长春), CCP Politburo Committee Member … Public Security Bureau Chief Zhou Yongkang (周永康), and Public Security Bureau Vice Chief Bai Jingfu (白景富) issued in succession formal instructions calling for a swift determination of the situation [in the Lan Chengzhang case] and the release of a report at the earliest possible moment”, the China News Service report said, noting that provincial officials had issued similar orders.

China’s domestic media have continued to report heavily on the Lan Chengzhang case since news broke in Southern Metropolis Daily on January 16. The story has prompted some newspapers to call for better protections for journalists in China.

In a January 22 editorial, Kunming’s Spring City Times used the Lan Chengchang story and other recent media stories, including a sketchy new watchdog journalism prize in Hunan province and watchdog journalism-related language in an anti-corruption legislation in Zhengzhou, to discuss the need for “specific laws” protecting the press:

These three [abovementioned] events, taken together, reveal a “love-hate” dynamic in the relationship between the government and news media in China, like that between “lovers”.

In a democratic society, the right of the people to monitor the government is in large part realized through the news media. If this principle is carried out [in deed], the relationship between the media and government should be one of monitor and monitored. Naturally, to the extent the media is an industry, the government has a duty to regulate it. Here we glimpse the [seemingly] contradictory relationship in which [the media and government] are both united and oppositional.

No matter what country’s mainstream media, the emphasis is on the interests of the nation and the people, and this means that in most instances the goals of media and government are one and the same. Their relationship should be one of mutual reliance and counter-valence, maintaining a state of balance. If one side takes pains to upset this balance, this will cause significant damage to both sides — during last year’s Typhoon “Saomei” in Fujian Province, reported numbers of dead showed considerable variance among the people because news media were strictly controlled [by local Party officials] …

For the media, having an atmosphere suited to watchdog journalism is much more meaningful than watchdog journalism prizes of any kind. For Zhejiang Province to emphasize the media’s right to conduct watchdog journalism through local legislation is progress. But while in a modern democratic society the fact that the “news media carry out watchdog journalism in accordance with the law … on government employees as they perform their official duties” is common knowledge, we still lack specific laws for [protecting] the exercising [of watchdog journalism], and when the rubber meets the road it is hard to ensure journalists are free to report.

The realization of watchdog journalism depends on good-faith interaction between media and the government. Officials have no need for teeth-grinding hate of the press, nor must they love them wholeheartedly.

[Posted by David Bandurski, January 24, 2007, 4:36pm]

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