China Reporting Wins Pulitzers & Official Condemnation

The New York Times won four Pulitzer Prizes yesterday, two of which were reported from China: David Barboza’s groundbreaking investigative report on the wealth of the family of then Premier Wen Jiabao, and a series jointly reported on Apple’s operations in China.

In October, when David Barboza published his Wen Jiabao investigation, Chinese officials lashed out, accusing him of having “ulterior motives” and trying to “smear” China. The New York Times website was blocked in China, and it was later revealed that the newspaper’s headquarters were subjected to a sustained hacking effort, which appeared to be aimed at acquiring Barboza’s personal communications. Bloomberg, which published an investigative report on the networks of power and wealth surrounding current President Xi Jinping, was also blocked in China and hacked following the report.

Following the Pulitzer announcement, Chinese authorities repeated the accusations against the New York Times. From AFP (via Economic Times):

The story, which was published in October last year, alleged close relatives of Wen have made billions of dollars in business dealings.

It provoked anger from authorities in China, who said it was part of a “smear” by “voices” opposed to the country’s development. The Times’ Chinese and English websites were subsequently blocked in China and remain inaccessible.

“Our position towards this issue is very clear. We believe the relevant report by the New York Times reporter is with ulterior motives,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing Tuesday.

Foreign reporters based in China know they face consequences from authorities if their reporting delves into areas the government does not want exposed. ChinaFile hosted a roundtable discussion titled, “Why Does China Mess with the Foreign Press?”, in which Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan discusses the widespread perception among China’s leaders that such investigative reports are sourced by players with their own political agenda:

A senior Chinese whose job it is to gather intelligence asked me both of these questions –why did the Times attack the premier and who gave them the information — and was incredulous when I answered that the wealth of Wen’s wife had been widely known for years, and this was a story just waiting to be written by a reporter with the skills to get the facts. He must have thought I was either naive or a liar. Such is the paranoia of the Chinese political class.

David Barboza has explained that all his reporting was based on scrupulous reading of public documents. Isabel Hilton points out that Chinese reporters often face harsher consequences for their investigative reports, and cites the case of Jiang Weiping, who was imprisoned for his reporting on Bo Xilai and other local officials in the 1990s.

Update: In a further crackdown on foreign media, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television issued a directive this week forbidding journalists from “using news or informational products from foreign media or foreign websites” without prior permission.