Protecting watchdogs

0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, November 9, 2009
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As our colleagues celebrated the country's 10th Journalists Day yesterday, many shared the feeling that journalism as a profession is no longer what it was. For many, being a journalist is now a risky business.

Indeed. We have heard plenty about the troubles the men and women in our profession have run into. There have been a number of cases where investigative journalists were physically assaulted, illegally held in custody, threatened, or falsely incriminated. And truth-seeking reporters have been thrown those two famous rhetorical questions: "On whose side are you standing, the Party's or the masses'", and "Are you a Party member?"

Being a journalist may be tricky. Many are still accustomed to seeing the mass media as the authorities' mouthpiece. To them, journalists finding fault with the authorities is simply unacceptable. On the other hand, the central authorities have been calling on the media to be more aggressive and play the watchdog role.

Expectations of them have also undergone dramatic changes in recent years. People want journalists to be more inquiring to satisfy their right to know. The authorities want the media to be a dutiful supervisor to facilitate their attempts to deliver clean and good governance.

Yet, in spite of all the promises and encouragement, that is not an easy role to play. Access to government information is not a handicap peculiar to journalists. Even the recent decree on government information disclosure has not made much difference. The bigger trouble is the same old question of whom the media work for.

In practice, besides pressure from editors on "marketability," most Chinese journalists also have to take pains to weigh and balance their reports so that playing a supervisory role does not land them in trouble.

It is helpful that the newly amended regulation on press card management emphasizes protection for journalists. However, details of how to better protect them are to be worked out.

So on this Journalists Day, when our colleagues expressed concern about their legitimate rights as news professionals, we are still faced with the truth that there is no legal basis for the protection they want.

Protecting journalists may stir mixed feelings among the general public. Some are fed up with paparazzo journalism. Some are sickened by journalists trading favorable exposure for personal gains. Some are tired of those singing the praises of people in power.

This profession is in need of regulation but if there is no healthy environment where journalists can pursue serious journalism, media supervision is out of the question.

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