A reporter is detained. His newspaper fights back
Oct 26th 2013 | BEIJING |From the print edition
“PLEASE release him,” read the simple headline in three large-type Chinese characters on the front page of the October 23rd edition of New Express, a newspaper in the southern city of Guangzhou. Even with its polite phrasing, the front-page plea—and a sarcastic accompanying editorial—marked an unusually confrontational tone for a Chinese newspaper.
The object of the plea was Chen Yongzhou, a reporter who had written 15 articles alleging financial irregularities by Zoomlion, a maker of construction equipment in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, 700km (435 miles) away. Mr Chen, said the editorial, was detained in Guangzhou by police from Changsha “on suspicion of damaging the commercial reputation” of Zoomlion. The paper accused the Changsha police of acting “outside their jurisdiction” and described the company’s influence with police as a “secret weapon”. It said it stood by Mr Chen’s stories, adding: “We have always believed that if we just go out and responsibly do our reporting, there won’t be any problem.”
Alas, as the paper might have known after 64 years of Communist Party rule, things are not so simple in China, where all media are ultimately controlled by the state. Local papers answer first to local leaders, who sometimes let them report venal goings-on in other provinces, if not on their own doorstep. Central authorities also sometimes call on the press to act as a watchdog against corruption, but then react harshly when that call is answered.
Reporters are pushing the boundaries every day. Mr Chen’s articles probably annoyed Hunan officials who took matters into their own hands. The call for his release is more likely to be part of a local spat than a harbinger of broader press freedom. But liberals (and detained journalists) will take what they can get. It is a sign of the changing world of China’s media that anyone dares to speak out at all.