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Lesson for journalists
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Taking money in journalistic practice is the most serious violation of professional ethics. The very act undermines the credibility of whatever a reporter reports for his media.

But the latest case, involving a reporter who is charged with accepting bribes, is much more complicated.

The case is convoluted because the reporter wrote critical stories about the construction quality of an airport, unlike others in which reporters took money to say good things about the subject.

If this reporter has taken money, he deserves to be punished regardless of the amount of money he has accepted. The amount of money involved is controversial, and not only because of conflicting claims.

The reporter admitted to receiving 15,000 yuan, but he is charged with taking 40,000 yuan. The amount does not make a difference to the nature of his violation of journalistic ethics though it may have a bearing on his term in jail, if he is sent to.

What is intriguing is the reporter's claim that he would not have gained the trust of the whistle blowers if he had refused the money offered; and, there was no other way for him to get so much inside information and contacts for his investigative stories.

The two whistle blowers are working with the company to construct the airport in Northeast China's Jilin Province. We don't know why these two paid the reporter to expose the quality problem of the construction project. Neither do we know the truth of the reporter's claims.

But it was reported that the reporter's stories did rattle the local government.

If the reporter collaborated with the two whistle blowers to make up facts in the stories, he would be guilty of not only taking bribes but also damaging the reputation of the airport. If it is the other way round, the local government will have to use the power of its public relations department to make up the image while looking into the problem in earnest. There is also reason for people to question whether it is a retaliatory action taken to drag the reporter to court.

Although the reporter has violated professional ethics, it would be wrong to assume that the problems the reporter's stories uncovered are not true. Whatever the result of the case, it should serve as a reminder to journalists that they must unfailingly stick to the straight and the narrow when it comes to journalistic ethics.

(China Daily May 15, 2009)

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