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Some media don't get the message: no bootlicking

By Ni Tao   (Shanghai Daily)

08:46, February 07, 2013

(File Photo)

Although its credibility is often questioned by certain foreign skeptics, there are many signs that Chinese media is enjoying a freer hand in handling news.

Such topics as officials' sex scandals, infighting and other news deemed "damaging" to the government's image rarely made their way into newspapers or TV broadcasts a few decades ago, but they are now the staple of some muckraking news outlets.

Another example of Chinese media's growing freedom is so-called "disaster coverage."

In the past, whenever a major accident occurred, relevant authorities would scramble to cover it up or under-report the fatalities, for fear of losing their jobs.

While cover-ups do occur today, they are sporadic, and the rise of citizen journalism, armed with formidable graft-busting microblogs, is helping to strengthen the hand of traditional media along the way.

Yet there still are those who squander the freedom and appear more than happy to censor themselves.

The dramatic explosion that was said to have destroyed an 80-meter section of a bridge in central China's Henan Province on February 1 and killed 10 people raised hard questions about the bridge's quality, since the blast was reportedly triggered by an unlikely culprit -- a truck laden with fireworks.

But even more embarrassing was an ensuing news item carried by, the province's largest web portal by traffic, that reported the accident as if it were just a parade of officials on an inspection tour.

The report, dated February 1, totaled around 1,300 in words, 1,134 of which were devoted to fawning upon the authorities for their "speedy response" to the accident.

The names of 16 provincial and city officials directing rescue operation on site were featured prominently and high up in the report, coupled with 25 positive terms describing their work as "immediate," "methodical," "effectual," and "with heart and soul."

By comparison, there was nary a mention of the victims and their grief-stricken families.

And reporting about the accident itself and possible causes was cursory.

In contrast with coverage that can be over-emotional and filled with pathos, the report in question is devoid of any emotion, any sympathy for the lost lives. It is official mumbo jumble at its worst, critics say.

While it is common to give pride of place to officials at the front lines, battling floods, typhoons and other calamities, there should be a limit to this obsequious practice. Media are supposed to be watchdogs, tribunes of the people, not professional sycophants.

Take the bridge collapse.

Exactly what bravery and composure did the 16 officials exhibit that deserved such lengthy accolades, eclipsing the suffering of victims who were killed or injured in the accident?

It is surprising that, at a time when even the state-level media are undergoing a linguistic revolution - to the delight of an audience fed up with a jargon-filled diet - a few local media continue to indulge in flattery.

A popular expression among cadres these days is jie di qi, or to say or do things without pretension.

For journalists, jie di qi requires them to trash all the empty, adulatory cliches and put facts and people, rather than officials, first.

A key point of the campaign launched by China's senior politicians to shake up the bureaucracy is to make cadres speak more like humans, less like robots programmed to spout boilerplate in front of cameras.

While the top-down movement has succeeded in adding color and life to the once-stale language of politicians, there are corners it has not reached.

Old habits die hard.

All the more reason why we need outspoken media who dare to speak truth to power and truthfully for the people.

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Email|Print|Comments(Editor:GaoYinan、Ye Xin)

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