Public health still risky topic for Chinese journalists

Public health reporting is improving in China, but not fast enough. A new Human Rights Watch report on child lead poisoning in Chinese cities documents harassment of local journalists trying to cover the problem. “Journalists who reported on the lead poisoning in three of the four locations told Human Rights Watch that police had followed them or forced them to leave the area when attempting to interview people,” the report says. 

The international rights group’s research offers a glimpse at a wider problem in China, where public health and food safety issues are frequently in the media. Watchdog reporting is sometimes encouraged and well-received. But all too often, government censorship obstructs investigations, contributing to rumors and misreporting.

The Ministry of Health has announced plans to blacklist journalists who make errors reporting on public health or food safety, according to the Hong Kong University-based China Media Project. Local media concede that accuracy could be improved but are concerned that the blacklist would be misused against legitimate reporters, the Media Project reports.

In March of this year, the AIDS website Aizhi was shut down for posting a retired health official’s appeal to the government to publicly address its sponsorship of commercial blood banks, which infected thousands of patients and donors with HIV in Henan province. 

Journalists working to expose these wrongs should be encouraged, not blacklisted.