The death of Li Wangyang, a Chinese political activist, has created ripples in China. Adding to the existing ruckus, this is another development that brings to light the plummeting state of press freedom.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is a leading English newspaper in Hong Kong, with a circulation of 104,000. Considered one of the most prominent dailies in the country, it has come under fire because of the chief editor’s decision to reduce the coverage about Li Wangyang’s death. This issue has brought up questions regarding journalism ethics and press freedom. Wang Xiangwei was recently appointed as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper. This promotion, in itself was regarded to be under political influence, considering his close relationship with the mainland.
Li Wangyang was found hanging from a window bar on 6th June 2012. Though initial autopsy reports claimed it to be a suicide, his family suspects foul play, considering the fact that he was blind, deaf and barely able to move. His apparently staged suicide, after one year of release from imprisonment has caused an outcry in China. Being a matter of utmost national importance, not to mention the mystery involved, the story regarding his death was splashed across the front pages of almost all the leading newspapers. The SCMP, itself had come out with a 400 word news feature.
However, in a later issue, it was reduced to a mere 100 word brief report in an inside page, contrary to other newspapers, in which this news item continued to dominate the front pages. To add to the fire, Xiangwei’s response to a sub-editor’s e-mail, enquiring about the reduction in this coverage, raised questions about press freedom and influence of the government on the press. Reply to the mails came out as threatening and stern. This conversation was sent by the sub editor to his colleagues, which later went public.
In spite of Xiangwei’s denial about downplaying the story, his mainland origin and membership in the CPPCC Jillin Provincial committee causes the public to think otherwise. An involvement and interference of the government is highly suspected. Political influence or not, the point of discussion remains about the deteriorating freedom of press. The troubling fact is that this is not an isolated incident. An overwhelming number of journalists claim that their work is being questioned and controlled. Majority of them feel that interference from the government, pressure from other sectors and self censorship in the industry is questioning the conduct of ethical journalism.
Journalism deals with bringing out the truth and also letting it out, to the world. If the work of newspapers and journalists are controlled, then it is absolutely pointless and doesn’t serve any purpose at all. Often, the media is denied access to information and there’s no doubt that the government connives with top officials of the industry in doing so. As harmful as it is to the public, who get wrong information, it also affects and influences scores of people who aspire to become journalists and bring out the truth. The press and journalists should be given carte blanche to write and report the truth, without being controlled. Incidents like this are a black mark on a profession as noble as journalism and should be avoided to maintain the faith of the general public.