Winter at Home, Spring Abroad for Journalists

In 2008, investigative reporter Jian Guangzhou uncovered a major food safety scandal involving melamine-tainted Sanlu milk powder. This year, he left Shanghai’s Oriental Daily in one of a series of high-profile news media resignations and reassignments. In today’s media climate, he told McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter he would never have been able to publish his findings on Sanlu’s wrongdoing:

The food safety problem at hand turned out to be epic: Twenty-two dairy businesses were implicated in a scandal over mixing milk with an industrial chemical that can cause kidney failure in babies. At least six infants in China died as a result, and some 300,000 fell ill. The courts convicted more than 20 people linked to the industry, sending two of those off for execution.

[…] Wang Keqin, a doyen of Chinese journalists, said in an interview at his Beijing office that this year has been “probably the worst” in a decade or more for investigative journalists, despite one of the biggest political scandals in recent history: the wife of a powerful Communist Party figure convicted of murder, and that official, Bo Xilai, now himself being handed over to the courts. But domestic reporting on the case, viewed by some observers as ruthless political theater during a factional power struggle, has been subject to severe scrutiny by party propaganda apparatchiks.

[…] Sitting in a Shangahi cafe and sipping tea last week, Jian sounded wistful as he talked about the milk scandal story.

“I definitely couldn’t do it” today, he said. “Because now everyone is more cautious.”

By contrast, Chinese state media’s aggressive global expansion has more momentum than ever. From Elizabeth Dwoskin at Businessweek:

Since Wang Guan arrived in the U.S. from Beijing in February, the correspondent for state-owned China Central Television embedded with the U.S. Navy and broadcast live from the Republican and Democratic conventions. “It’s exciting … to observe democracy in action,” he says.

Guan is one of 100 journalists who CCTV has put to work in Washington, D.C., this year. He and a few dozen colleagues send dispatches in Mandarin to 42 channels back home, while 60 others produce business and news-magazine shows for a new English-language channel. Dubbed CCTV America, it airs on cable and satellite and is meant to burnish China’s image in the U.S. “There’s an overall sense in government circles that China is not always given a fair shake in Western media coverage,” says Jim Laurie, a veteran of ABC (DIS) and NBC (CMCSA) who consults for CCTV. “They see opportunities at a time when the U.S. media is contracting.” CCTV officials declined to be interviewed.

[…] Laurie says CCTV America reporters have slightly more leeway than they would in China. In March the network covered Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba, unusual because China hasn’t had diplomatic relations with the Vatican since 1957. Yet the same month, when Communist Party leader Bo Xilai was ousted after allegations of his involvement in a homicide, the network didn’t mention it. After Bo was charged in late September, David Shambaugh, director of George Washington University’s China Policy Program, who’d been a commentator on CCTV America several times, offered to discuss the indictment on air: “They said, ‘No, that’s too sensitive.’”