It’s no surprise that the censors flagged the pending property law off-limits to scrutiny during this year’s legislative session – not after an ideological rumpus helped derail its passage last year. The vast majority of mainstream news outlets have obliged, taking cues from the constructive official line. The one major magazine to strike out on its own, Caijing, was forced to abort its planned cover preview; it published four days late as a result. Then there’s Southern People Weekly (ÂçóÊñπ‰∫∫Áâ©Âë®Âàä), the popular Guangzhou-based magazine, which took an altogether different angle on the law: Andrew Batson’s.
Batson is a correspondent with The Wall Street Journal in Beijing. In last week’s issue of Southern People Weekly, he is credited with a succinct curtain-raiser on the property law and other legislation on the NPC docket. In fact, he only found out about his piece (pictured) several days after it came out. Your correspondent, a long-time homey of his, told him.
Turns out the article in the magazine (reproduced below) is a stripped-down translation of the one Batson published several days beforehand, in The Asian Wall Street Journal. Presented as a “viewpoint,” it carries Batson’s byline at the bottom but no mention of his newspaper. It’s thus made to look like an original submission. SPW seems to have borrowed the translation published by Dow Jones’s own Chinese-language service, cut it heavily, and then pasted it back together. Gone is Batson’s discussion of senior leaders’ aims and policymakers’ conflicts of interests vis a vis the drafted laws, though mention of dissent both from lefties and from liberals remains. For example, Batson writes:
The property-rights law will be a symbolic milestone for the nominally communist nation, even though it falls far short of what more liberal reformers had initially advocated.
In Southern People Weekly, the sentence is translated:
The property-rights law will be a symbolic milestone, even though it falls far short of what more liberal reformers had initially advocated.
Of course, many a member of China’s foreign press corps has spotted a story of his or hers reprinted locally over the years, without due credit or copyrighting. But the difficult straits surrounding this subject left us particularly curious about the Batson piece. That and the fact it’s published within an issue of the magazine devoted to Consumer Rights Protection Day, March 15. The running theme throughout is “Why Aren’t Chinese Angry?” and the contents comprise 50 accounts of commercial scams and endangerment. So here’s looking at #51, eh?
Somewhat angered and hoping for clarification, Biganzi called the editorial offices of Southern People Weekly in Guangzhou. The editor on the other end of the line was a congenial, native Mandarin-speaking fellow surnamed Rao. Biganzi asked him for a full explanation. He couldn’t really furnish one. An excerpt from our exchange follows:
Biganzi: I just wanted to ask about your piece on the property law in last week’s edition.
SPW: What do you mean? We didn’t cover the property law. We can’t really, not before it passes. But we’re working on a feature right now…
Biganzi: No, no. In the issue with Fang Lijun’s painting on the cover. The “viewpoint” near the front…
SPW: Let me see [sound of flipping pages]…Oh, that.
Biganzi: It’s written by a reporter from The Wall Street Journal. So did you ask permission from writer or the newspaper?
SPW: I’m really not sure. You’d have to ask the editor in charge of this page. Can I have him call you back?
Biganzi: But why would you use this piece in the first place?
SPW: The authorities won’t allow us to do our own kind of reporting anyway until after the law is passed. Before that we essentially have to go according to the Xinhua [News Agency] file.
Biganzi: Then why run a foreign reporter’s?
SPW: Well, it’s not our reporting.
Biganzi: Yeah, but it’s not Xinhua’s either. It looks like it is your reporting.
SPW: So you’re calling to ask about copyright infringement?
Biganzi: I just want to know why you ran what you ran.
SPW: Are you a reporter or an editor?
Biganzi: A reporter. What’s the difference? And why print the author’s name but not the organization?
SPW: We generally give the source of whatever we print. But maybe the editor overlooked it…
Biganzi: But I still don’t understand why you ran this.
SPW: It’s an important issue. Authorities demanded we handle the property law in a low-key manner. They don’t want any excessive criticism that will heat up the debate, so we had to be low-key…But I’m not clear what happened. How about I take your number and have the editor who worked on call you back. What’s your phone number?
We’re still waiting to hear back.
SPW’s weekly offerings online are limited, and the article in question is not among them. Fortunately, rather than going through the trouble of typing it out, we’ve managed to assemble a copy using the AWSJ translation — just as SPW apparently did: