“The Truth is More Endangered than Tigers in China”

The “South China Tiger” [华南虎]saga continues. Now known as “Tigergate” among Chinese netizens, this event will no doubt be one of the top media/internet stories of 2007. On December 2nd, NetEase (one of China’s leading news portals) published all 40 digital photos that farmer Zhou Zhenglong alleged he took of the tiger and also published six independent experts’ evaluations of the authenticity of these photos. These six independent third party evaluations include no less than American Chinese criminologist Henry Lee (李昌), the China Photographers Association (CPA)’s digital photo authentification center, and China’s top South China Tiger expert Hu Huijian (胡慧建). And all of their evaluations of the tiger photo reached the same conclusion: they’re fake.

Two days after the Netease evaluation came out, on December 4, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) had a press conference and its spokesperson dodged questions from journalists about the authenticity of those photos, and only vaguely hinted that the responsibility of these photos is in the hands of the Shaanxi government and Shaanxi Forestry Office. The spokesperson said the State Forestry Administration (SFA) would not “go beyond its position” to evaluate authenticity of these photos. At the end of the press conference, the deputy director of the State Forestry Administration (SFA), Zhu Lieke said: “There are a lot of photographs of the Loch Ness Monster in the museum. People care about the existence of the monster rather than the authenticity of the photos.” This response again generated furious criticism from netizens. In one online survey, participated in by 71,000 Internet users, 90% of participants were not satisfied with the government’s response.

On December 8th, CCTV’s News Investigation program had a full hour program entitled: “Questions on the Photos of the Huanan Tiger.” The anchor Chai Jing (柴静) interviewed all related parties and her sharp questions and investigation further revealed the inconsistencies in Zhou Zhenglong’s and local officials’ denials and obscuring of the truth.

CDT’s Fan Linjun translated the following article, by Wang Heyan, from Caijing Magazine on December 11, 2007, which illustrates that the significance of this “Tigergate” event has gone beyond the authenticity of a group of digital photos. Rather, it is a reflection of the existing crisis of public trust in China society.

Jinsong Hao (郝劲松), a lawyer in Beijing, filed a lawsuit against the State Forestry Administration in the No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing on December 10, after the administration dismissed his request to reconsider the “Fake Photos of South China Tiger” incident. Hao asked the court to revoke the dismissal decision made by the administration.

Under the belief that the pictures of South China Tiger were forged, on November 12 Hao delivered an express letter from his native county Dingrang of Shanxi province to the forestry administration urging it to reconsider the issue.. Hao received a dismissal letter from the administration two weeks later, which says that Hao’s request couldn’t be accepted because the Shaanxi Forestry Office announced the discovery of South China tigers to the general public rather than to Hao only.

Hao argued in his complaint that he has the right to request the reconsideration because he is part of the general public that Shaanxi Forestry Office gave the false information to. As a taxpayer, he has the right to receive truthful information from the government, and the right to refuse false information. The Constitution grants every citizen the right of freedom of speech, but how can the citizens enjoy the right of freedom of speech if the government always provides them with false information or no information at all, Hao questioned in his complaint.

Another reason why the forestry administration dismissed Hao’s request is because it determined that the act of Shaanxi Forestry Office announcing their discovery of South China tigers didn’t have a negative impact on Hao’s rights. However, Hao believed that his life was seriously influenced by Shaanxi Forestry Office’s behavior of releasing false information. The office’s deception caused him to doubt the professional ethics of some government officials and completely destroyed his tenuous sense of trust in certain government departments. The protracted fake photos of the South China Tiger incident damaged the government’s credibility, and weakened the people’s confidence in the government, according to Hao.

Hao said that this case exemplified that truth is more endangered than tigers in China right now. The credibility of the government has come to a critical moment when the public questioned so strongly the authenticity of the obviously fake photos. As the highest authority on wildlife, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) must clearly respond to the questions asked by the public over the forged photos of South China tigers. Any attempt to confuse the public with vague concepts will arouse further public anger and discontent, and cause social instability.

“As a citizen, I have the right to know the truth, ” Hao said.

The court has accepted Hao’s complaint, and will decide whether to hear this case in seven days.


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