Dark Journalism

In Forbes, Gady Epstein looks at the issue of corruption in the Chinese media:

Wasn’t the year of the Olympics supposed to herald a new era of integrity in Chinese journalism? It has and it hasn’t. The Sichuan earthquake inspired some courageous Chinese reporters to defy censors in pursuit of the ugly truth about building standards. But government interference isn’t the only thing getting in the way of truth telling. In China’s world of black journalism countless smaller tragedies routinely get shoved under the rug. Reporters race to the scene of coal mine accidents not to investigate them but to collect hush money. The more dead miners, the fatter the payoffs, especially for correspondents carrying the labels of leading national and provincial news outlets, say media experts and Chinese reporters.

These bribes are part of a widespread culture of checkbook journalism in China, from reporters taking handouts at corporate press events to broadcasters selling precious airtime on the evening news to reporters blackmailing targets with the threat of exposure. Unlike government censorship, this corruption eats at one of China’s more beleaguered professions from within its ranks. The trading of favors for cash is so prevalent that, like the honest cop in a corrupt police unit, an ethical journalist risks the scorn of colleagues.

“For those journalists who never take red envelopes, it will be very hard for them to deal with their coworkers,” says Zhan Jiang, journalism dean at China Youth University for Political Sciences in Beijing. “Other journalists will treat them like enemies, and other people would think that they are very dangerous, that ‘They could report on us.'”

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