The Fourth Estate Goes MIA

The Fourth Estate would be the media.  The role of the media is to supervise and monitor the government and to inform the public about the important issues.

What happens if the Fourth Estate fails to do its job?  More interestingly, when the Fourth Estate falls short, what is the explanation?  Here are three case studies:

Case Study #1:  Yannan Forum

(Observe China)

As the only platform in China that pays attention to the Shaanbei Oilfield Case, the Taishai Village case and the Wang Binyu case, Yannan forum has been grabbed attention.  The website adminstrators said that the number of visitors to Yannan forum has soared.  A website lives by the votes of the mouse clicks of the netizens, so this is a good thing.

Unfortunately, the expected troubles came quickly.  The deputy administrator issued an email to all the forum webmasters:

"All webmasters please clean up all your pages.  All posts on the Taishi Village incident and the Wang Binyu case, as well as any new posts about them, should be moved to the delete area.  Thank you for your cooperation."  From the Yannan Forum executive committee, September 21, 2005.

This message was clear and crisp, but nothing short of a battlefield order.  I asked the management personnel if there was an explanation that I can offer to those friends who supported and cared about Yannan Forum.  The answer was that there was no explanation.  Originally, I wanted to ask about how the order was handed down not to have any more discussions.  Was there any legal document in accordance with the proper legal procedure?  Was there any evidence prior to the order being issued?  Was there any room for appeal after the order was issued? and so on.  Such steps are essential if the law was strictly being implemented.

But I did not ask.  Why?  This is not because I believe that the relevant departments would be acting in accordance with the law.  Quite the opposite.  Withiout even asking, I can guess that the relevant departments made these decisions in a secret manner.  Frankly speaking, these hidden "law enforcement activities" are stealth tactics.

Why do I think that they acted in secrecy?  According to what I know, there is not a single law in China that can decide which subjects can or cannot be discussed.  If the relevant departments really respected the existing laws, then the revelant leaders must know that these restrictions have exceeded the legally authorized scope.  When that happens, it is against the law.

When one has gone beyond the law, would one leave anything behind for you to prosecute?  Of course not.  The leaders are all smart and astute, and they cannot be that stupid.

Case Study #2: Taishi Village

(New Century Net)  Professor Ai Xiaoling.

At 4pm, September 26, 2005, I was assaulted in Taishi Village along with lawers and reporters.  At around 6pm, we were assaulted by thugs at the Panyu Shawan Bridge.  This incidence happened 36 hours ago.  I have not heard any explanation from the local public security bureau, and I have not seen any local or outside media coverage.  Although I called reporter friends, no media were willing to report on the case.

This collective silence under the violence of the authorities made me feel that the Guangzhou that I have lived here for 11 years has become a foreign place.  Someone said, "You can't claim to be a local resident unless a relative died here."  Does this mean that an outsider like me who lives in Guangzhou must die here in order to have Guangzhou as my hometown?  My Guangzhou, my home, my colleagues, my students and my media friends -- I am not begging you to share my views.  I am begging you that you must give assistance for my right to live.  I don't want to be beaten to death by thugs, and I don't my lawyer friends who continue to work on the Taishi case to be beaten to death.  To see that they are being violent assaulted while the local media refuse to pay any attention gives me no peace every minute every day.

Case Study #3: Ching Cheong

(New Century Net)  Mao Mengjing.

Earlier, I had asked the Journalists Assocation how come while Chinese vice premier Zeng Qinghong visited Hong Kong, no reporters brought anything about Ching Cheong.  A member of the Journalists Assocation replied privately that they "could not get close enough" to ask.  But before vice premier Zeng left Hong Kong, he was talking in front of a row of microphones about how he might not have heard everything that he wanted to and "the bones are next to the tendons."  He was not that far away from the reporters.  If the reporters wanted to "yell at the mikes", it ought to be possible.

But no reporters asked about the Ching Cheong matter.  The reasons were either: (1) they were too scared at the time and did not dare; (2) they did not wanted to ask any questions about Ching Cheong, because it is the same old thing and therefore not news; (3) if they "yelled" out, they might be dressed down by their editor or boss when they return to the office for inappropriate behavior.  If this is how reporters feel, then it is truly a sad episode for the people of Hong Kong.

In the above, the first and last reasons involve the interests and feelings of the individual reporters, and that might be understandable.  But if the Ching Cheong case was going to result in a predictable answer and therefore asking is a waste of time, that would be a mistake.  In the Chinese legal system, politics is a force and that changes from day to day.  There are reasons to expect a surprising answer.  After all, the Ching Cheong incident itself is an unexpected case.

If the question was yelled out, Zeng Qinghong may pretend that he did not hear, offer a "no comment" or "let the law take its course."  But the matter could still be brought into the foreground and remind the people of Hong Kong about this matter.

Here were three cases studies.  They are extreme unsatisfactory and incomplete, because I would have preferred statements from the media workers themselves.  Why did the Yannan Forum executive committee feel that they have no choice but to comply?  Why did the Guangzhou media feel that they could not report on anything in Taishi?  Why did the Hong Kong reporters and editors think that it was a losing cause to bring up the name of Ching Cheong?  I would love to know what their rationale is.