“The top headline must [always] be about Xi Jinping and the second must be about [prime minister] Li Keqiang,” - In the Fiji Sun it alternates between Ratu Voreqe Bainimarama and Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum
China's young reporters give up on journalism: 'You can't write what you want' The ever greater constraints placed on news reporting by Xi Jinping mean many Chinese journalists see no point in pursuing a media career!
12 February 2016
When a 7.9-magnitude earthquake ripped through Sichuan province in May 2008, Lin Tianhong, a 29-year-old reporter at China Youth Daily, was one of the first to volunteer to head into the disaster zone. “Everyone wanted to go,” he recalled. “Otherwise, why be a journalist?” Hours later the Beijing-based reporter was flying towards Sichuan’s shattered countryside for what would be one of the most horrifying and defining moments of his short career in journalism.
For the next two weeks Lin trawled the disaster zone writing a series of devastating frontline dispatches. One article, Back Home, told the story of a couple who carried the corpse of their teenage son, Cheng Lei, home for burial after digging him from the rubble of his six-storey school. “His mother wanted to put new clothes on him, but Cheng Lei’s body had grown stiff,” the journalist wrote. “The couple knelt before his corpse, stroking his hands and feet, calling out his name over and over again.”
The heart-wrenching article earned Lin the respect of his editors and the adulation of a generation of Chinese reporters. But fast-forward seven years and the former high-flier has abandoned his notepad and pen and given up on journalism. “Boredom,” says Lin, who now works in PR on the 19th floor of Beijing’s World Profit Center, when asked to explain his decision. “One day I woke up in the morning [and] asked myself: do you still think it is fun doing the same thing over and over again each day?”
Beijing’s decision to expel the French journalist Ursula Gauthier in December has thrust the dispiriting situation facing foreign correspondents in China into the headlines. But Chinese journalists are facing far greater challenges – and many reporters are simply turning their back on the profession as a result.
David Bandurski, an expert on Chinese journalism from the University of Hong Kong, said an exodus was now under way from the country’s newspapers as talented young journalists decided there was no future in the profession. “We have reporters in their 30s and 40s who generally would be at the height of their professional careers in journalism who have left,” he said. “The mood is quite dismal right now in China’s media.”
Experts say two key factors are driving the hollowing out of Chinese newsrooms. One is the increasingly bleak financial situation facing newspapers as they struggle to adapt to the digital age. The other is the ever greater constraints being placed by President Xi Jinping’s increasingly authoritarian Communist party on what can and cannot be reported. “It’s really a kind of double whammy,” said Bandurski, who traces the current political chill to Xi’s rise to power in late 2012.
Since Xi became leader, Beijing has launched an all-out assault on freedom of expression, jailing journalists, bloggers and outspoken civil rights lawyers such as Pu Zhiqiang, who was recently convicted for sending seven sarcastic tweets. In one of the most notorious cases a 70-year-old journalist, Gao Yu, was jailed for leaking state secrets after she allegedly passed an internal Communist party document to the foreign media. Another journalist, Wang Xiaolu, a business reporter for one of China’s top financial magazines, was arrested and forced to make a televised “confession” for writing a story about last year’s stock market turmoil. China fell one place in last year’s Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking and now occupies 176th position out of 180 countries.
Lin, who now works for a film company run by the billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba group, denied politics were behind his decision to quit journalism, instead pointing to the dwindling readership and influence of Chinese newspapers. “Nowadays, nobody reads your stories,” he said. “Nowadays, readers are all living inside their smartphones or inside WeChat.”
But his frustration with censorship was evident in a blogpost in 2014 when he lashed out at the destruction of Southern Weekly, the once respected liberal broadsheet that he said had inspired him to become a journalist. “All these years, people like us have seen our articles killed and our voices silenced, and we’ve started to get used to it. We started to make compromises and to censor ourselves,” Lin reportedly wrote at the time. “We’ve gone too far, as if we have forgotten why we had chosen this industry to begin with.”
Despite such problems Lin, who resigned from his last journalism job in April 2014, said it was still possible to write worthwhile journalism in China. “It’s just like a person has 10 fingers. There is one finger you can’t use but the other nine all work. There is one story you can’t write but there are still nine others you can.” Asked what the 10th finger was, Lin laughed. “It’s the same for you,” he replied. “I guess I don’t need to say it out loud.”
Other young journalists are far less optimistic. “Being a journalist has no meaning any more,” said a thirtysomething editor from one of China’s leading news organisations. “My greatest feeling is that in recent years the industry’s freedoms have reached their lowest ebb in history.” Before the Xi Jinping era, editors at least had the autonomy to choose their own headlines, the journalist complained. Now newspapers and websites were forced to conform to a tedious monotony of praise for China’s Communist leaders. “The top headline must [always] be about Xi Jinping and the second must be about [prime minister] Li Keqiang,” the editor said. “If you read one website, you have read them all.”
Bandurski, the author of a book on investigative reporting in China, said the Xi administration’s growing intolerance of critical reporting was becoming clearer by the month. In the past, Chinese newspapers endured six-month-long government crackdowns in silence but would emerge from those periods by publishing a powerful investigative report or exposé. “We are not seeing those kind of examples any more,” the academic said. “We are seeing much more silence.”
Newspapers or websites that still tried to push the boundaries found themselves slapped back into line. A recent investigation into the social and environmental cost of the Three Gorges Dam by Shanghai’s The Paper was pulled off the internet after seven hours.
“The winter has turned into an ice age in terms of media,” Bandurski said. “For investigative reporting it has worsened steadily since 2005 and then of course the Olympics was a tough time. But since 2012 under Xi it has just gotten much, much worse.”
Hong Kong politicians call for Beijing to explain booksellers' 'abductions'
Lin, who has a three-year-old son, said he had no regrets over his decision to abandon an industry whose days were numbered. “Chinese media is a disaster now. Even if these talented people stayed, what could they do?” he said of the ongoing exodus of young reporters. After more than a decade in the business, the editor, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, said he was also on the verge of resigning. “Freedom is very important – it is the most important thing – but we don’t have it in China, especially in journalism,” he said.
“You can’t write what you want. You can’t interview who you want. And even if you do, you can’t publish it. Working in the Chinese media feels like you are wasting your life.”
The 'Little Dictators' who denied press freedom by attacking journalists; Now one of them (with 615 votes) has taken up a seat in Parliament as FijiFirst Party MP:
"It is indeed a great honour and privilege to take my place in this august house today as a Member of Parliament.First and foremost, I thank the Lord Almighty for His favour and the favour of the people of this beloved nation for giving me this honour. For those who voted for me, I hope my efforts will reward your faith, for those who chose otherwise, trust that I will be working to earn your support. In either case, I am here and ready to serve you.
Yes, the media plays a very important role in societies today, covering a wide range of topics and creating powerful personalities who are relied upon for sources of information and commentary. Writing about the fourth estate in 1841, Thomas Carlyle argued that the press was an important part of a democratic society, saying that writing gives people “a tongue which others will listen to.” Because of the importance of journalism in society, most members of the media abide by certain professional and personal ethics. Many journalists attempt to cultivate an air of neutrality, focusing on reporting of the issues as they are, so that people can judge the facts for themselves, while others focus on offering commentary and analysis from the perspective of a particular position. This is the sort of environment that I started my career in; democracy in Fiji was still very young. People judged you by your work. Currently, there is a bit of a changing of the guards” situation in the newsrooms. We have an influx of young journalists as the experienced ones have either gone to greener pastures or opted out of the profession. In this context, there is definitely scope for further media training.'