It’s not a bad day for Chinese journalists, relatively speaking, when they can run their own personal horror stories about getting harassed. In the past day, the horror story they’ve been talking about is Liu Wanyong’s.
Liu, an investigative reporter for the China Youth Daily’s watchdog supplement Freezing Point, got a quite a fright on Tuesday in Liaoning province, where he went to cover the trial of retired Fuxin mayor Wang Yachen. The 74-year-old Wang, along with his son and two others, is accused of abusing his position to commandeer a huge department store project. He also allegedly arranged for an estranged business partner to be locked up for nearly a year. It was Liu’s expose in Freezing Point, last May, that turned the tables on the Wangs. The Wangs did try to return the favor, suing Liu for libel in December. But a Beijing court threw out that claim because the Wangs were already indicted on corruption charges.
So naturally the Wang family was none too pleased to see Liu show up at the trial this week. Lucky for him, the proceedings were held in Dandong, not Fuxin. Liu survived to write a sidebar about his brush with danger and the predicament of reporters like him, which ran in Freezing Point on Wednesday alongside his whimsical account of the trial. You’ll find a rough translation below.
For Chinese muckrakers out there, one lesson to be learned from Liu and the Youth Daily is: hit ’em when they’re down. Pix of journos and cameramen taking a whooping at the hands of roughnecks are sprayed over Internet bulletin boards regularly nowadays, but it’s still quite rare for a paper to run meta-coverage as lofty and explicit as Liu’s (he cites Wen Jiabao). His is the kind of tattle tale that tends to emerge after a ugly, protracted struggle: Some powerful big-city media outlet has won a decisive ruling over some small-town official or businessman, and such is the spoils of victory.
Another recent example was the case of Liu Binglu, the Beijing News reporter who broke the story of the village siege in Dingzhou in June 2005, which helped bring down top government officials there the same day it ran. Things didn’t come off so smoothly for Liu Binglu a few weeks later, though, when he returned to Dingzhou in pursuit of a tip about slave labor practices. Dingzhou police and propagandists were waiting. Liu was interrogated at his hotel and by the next morning his subject, a migrant named Chen Zhongming, had vanished mysteriously. So less than a few later, the paper shot back with a damning two-page account, entitled, “In Search of the Missing Informant, Chen Zhongming.” The piece implied the Dingzhou government was responsible for the man’s disappearance. A couple months passed before Liu Binglu tracked down Chen in Shenzhen. He still doesn’t know what exactly happened to Chen in Dingzhou (Chen wouldn’t say).
Thing is, when Chinese journalists go so far as to print their trials, colleagues are not uniformly sympathic. In fact, they’re increasingly quick to wince at the questionable ethics at play whenever the media becomes the story. On BBS’s like Reporter’s Home last year, Liu Binglu and the Beijing News were skewered by some commentators who they contended they put Liu in harm’s way. “Bob Woodward would never reveal his sources,” quipped one. Likewise, Liu Wanyong got razzed a bit on Reporter’s Home this week. “Congratulations,” cracked one commentator, “You’re famous.”
To read Liu’s sidebar, click here.
Here’s a China Times (Huaxia Shibao) pick-up of Liu’s piece, which was in turn picked up in other papers.
Liu’s piece about the trial is here.
Read this post by HKU’s China Media Project for more background on the libel suit
A translation of Liu’s sidebar follows…
Why We Stuck with the Story
By Liu Wanyong
“The one in red, that’s Liu Wanyong, don’t let him get away! Liu Wanyong, you’re a rogue journalist. How many people have you fooled in return for payoffs!”
After Wang Xiaoyun pointed him out, sixty to seventy people surrounded the reporter to block his way. In a flash, a piercing cacophony of shrieks and invectives mixed together. Several heavies, dressed in denim and sneakers, clamored: “Beat him! Beat him!”
At that moment, the reporter felt a threat to his life, a helplessness, that he’d never felt before.
At noon on October 24 at the Zhenxing District People’s Court, in the Liaoning province city of Dandong – after the opening hearing in the trial of “retired senior official” Wa Yachen, his son Wang Xiaojun and two others who were suspected of being involved in the crimes of “falsely reporting registered capital” and “breaching official duties” – the reporter had yet to exit the courtroom when he fell under the deadly stare of Wang Xiaoyun. Just as he entered the yard of the courthouse, the attack and the abuses followed on his heels.
Wang Xiaoyun is the deputy chief of the Intermediate People’s Court of Fuxin and the daughter of the defendant, Wang Yachen. Formerly, she spent more than 10 years as deputy chief of the Bureau of Public Security in Fuxin.
At base, ‘supervision by public opinion’ (ËàÜËÆ∫ÁõëÁù£yulun jiandu) is the duty-bound responsibility of the media; even more, it is the expectation of the Party and the government. On September 4 of this year, at a video and telephone conference on “Strengthening the building of self-government and promoting innovation in government management”, Premier Wen Jiabao delivered an important speech, “Strengthening government building and promoting innovation in government management”. When speaking about how to develop democracy and strengthen supervision of the workings of power, he stressed that a high level of importance must be attached to ‘supervision by public opinion’, and that problems reflected in the news media must be seriously investigated, verified and promptly dealt with; to establish a system and mechanisms based on sound policies, execution, supervision, mutual coordination as well as mutual restraint, every part and every stage in the workings of power must come under effective supervision.
Premier Wen’s speech expressed the central government’s consistent attitude of steadfastly supporting ‘supervision by public opinion’. But in reality, there are always some people who resist, or even go against, ‘supervision by public opinion’. In particular, when those in possession of public power violate the law and commit crimes, their ability to retaliate against ‘supervision by public opinion’ often will surpass the imaginations of ordinary people.
On May 18, 2005, China Youth Daily, under the headline “The Business Dealings of a Retired Senior Official”, reported on the fight between Fuxin businessman Gao Wenhua and the former Secretary of Fuxin City Communist Party Committee, Wang Yachen, and his children.
Before “The Business Dealings of a Retired Senior Official” was published, Wang Yachen went everywhere making requests help, demanding the report not be published. After the article appeared in the newspaper, his daughter Wang Xiaoyun also approached several leaders of the newspaper, asking them to “have a meal and communicate” over it. Naturally, these requests were refused by the paper’s leaders.
Wang Yachen and his children did not give up, however. On August 22, 2005, Wang Yachen, Wang Xiaoyun and Wang Xiaojun each sued this newspaper and demanded compensation of 2.2 million yuan.
Once it became hard for all of these [efforts] to achieve their anticipated goal, it was easy for the abuses and attacks to befall the journalist.
On October 24, the reporter left the courthouse under the protection of Zhenxing Distict People’s Court police in Dandong. When he got into a taxi to head back to the place where he was staying, three heavies immediately pursued by car. At 12:56 p.m., the reporter returned to the place he was staying and immediately dialed “110” to demand assistance.
Of course, the reporter was not the only one to enjoy such “treatment”.
On June 9, 2005, Fuxin’s then-Deputy Chief of Public Security Wang Xiaoyuan, and her younger brother Wang Xiaogang (deputy chief of Public Safety under the Fuxin Public Security Bureau), accused Liaoning Fuxin Hualong Company driver Xu Ning of “false charges, entrapment, and slander”. In the trial, when the lawyer representing Xu Ning, Du Pu’an, told about how Wang Xiaogang once pointed a gun at Xu Ning’s head and threatened to execute him, Wang Xiaogang jumped up and made threats: “I wasn’t holding a gun! If you say that again, if you say that again…” Afterward, this person who, as vice-chief of Public Safety under the Fuxin City Public Security Bureau, was a people’s policeman, stuck out his thumb and his forefinger and made the hand gesture of firing a gun.
In fact, a lot of times reporters don’t even have the chance to seek assistance from “110”. In July, 2001, after the Nandan mine disaster in Guangxi, the mine owner hired thugs to lay daggers at the necks of reporters. In October 2003, when a flooding accident occurred at the Changda Coal Mine in Dengfeng city of Henan province, thugs snatched cameras and badly beat the reporters. Even though Dandong made the promise that “If you run into trouble, immediately report the emergency, and we’ll get there within three minutes,” and even though the trial had not yet concluded, I still decided to leave that same night.
The media’s investigative reports not only exist for the sake of people who incur harm. Even more, they are for our own sake.
Therefore, we must not turn back from upholding justice.