Chinese official urges political education for journalists

New York, March 11, 2010—A state official responsible for media regulation said Wednesday the government should require Chinese journalists to obtain official training to report the news, according to local and international news reports. Domestic journalists already need government-issued identity cards to work in China.  

Li Dongdong, deputy director of China’s General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP), made the comments to a Xinhua News Agency reporter on Wednesday, shortly after a senior editor was removed from his post for co-authoring an editorial criticizing government policies.

Li said a small minority of journalists were giving the profession a bad name because they lacked political judgment, according to Xinhua, who interviewed Li prior to the plenary session of China’s political advisory body in Beijing. She did not name individuals. “There are some who have not been thoroughly trained in the Marxist theory of news, or news media ethics,” Li told the reporter. GAPP would institute training for journalists on these topics and Communist Party propaganda regulations, among others, she told Xinhua.

CPJ said such a move is misguided. “Professional training should be provided by universities and initiatives within the industry. Merely filling journalists with the party line does not serve the interests of readers or viewers,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

It was not clear when new training would be carried out, or how a requirement would be enforced. But Li’s remarks follow close on a controversial decision by top editors at 13 newspapers to jointly publish a March 1 editorial calling for an overhaul of longstanding household registration rules. The leadership’s dissatisfaction with the piece became evident when the editorials swiftly disappeared from the Internet, international news reports said. The article’s only acknowledged author, Economic Observer online editor Zhang Hong, said this week he had been forced from his post, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

Journalist ethics are widely debated in China, and stories of journalists—and individuals with fake press cards—accepting bribes are common in the local media. The 2007 murder of Lan Chengzhang at an illegal coal mine in Shanxi province remains unresolved because his intentions and status as a reporter were unclear. Police said he did not have official accreditation, and they alleged that he was threatening to expose the operation in order to extort money.

Few accredited journalists take Zhang Hong’s route and risk their careers for articles that might offend the government. Non-accredited journalists who publish overseas or online are vulnerable to imprisonment under vague antistate charges, according to CPJ research. On February 9, activist Tan Zuoren was sentenced to five years in prison for subversion after researching the effects of shoddy school construction on the death toll during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.