Reporter-Investigators in China

Some reporters are known as investigative reporters, while private investigators have to write reports to their clients.  But isn't it too much for a client to come to an investigative agency and commission a negative magazine article on a 'person' or 'persons' of interest?

This article is summarized from Legal Mirror (via Yahoo! News).  

"After an investigation, we believe that Wang Xianzang, the director of the Department Health in Cangnan County of Zhejiang Province is a dictatorial, abusive and incompetent local health department cadre."  Those words appeared in an magazine titled "Viewpoint and Investigation."  But the Zhaoyang Court decided after a court hearing that this magazine libeled the principal's reputation and rights.

The magazine "Viewpoint and Investigation" belongs to the Beijing Tianping Viewpoint Society Investigative Agency, along with two other magazines titled "Police Viewpoint Special" and "Legal Investigations."  Since 2003, these three publications have been exposed by various local media in Jilin, Shanxi, Henan and Jiangxi and banned by many local news departments for extortion and blackmail, with many of their "reporters" being sentenced to jail.

Last March, "Viewpoint and Investigation" published an article titled: "The News Media Cannot Monitor An Outrageous and Lawless Department of Health Director."  According to the article, the Beijing Tianping Viewpoint Society Investigation Agency conducted field investigations in Cangnan County of Zhejiang Province for sixty days and found that Department of Health Director Wang Xianzang was abusing his authority -- "he cancelled the licenses of individual doctors who had been permitted to practice by registered medical organizations, and then he arranged large numbers of incompetent doctors to enter various health and medical organizations," "Wang Xianzang was a dictatorial, abusive, inconsiderate and incompetent local official."

In April, copies of that issue of "Viewpoint and Investigation" were mailed to local government and party officials and leaders in Zhejiang province, Wenzhou City as well as Cangnan County.

Upon seeing the report, Wang Xianzang went to Beijing and filed a libel lawsuit against the Beijing Tianping Viewpoint Society Investigative Agency, which is headquartered in the Zhaoyang district of Beijing.  During the trial, the judges found that the agency had taken the words of a few local individuals and then made a series of direct and negative conclusions about Wang's character and accomplishments.  On October 31, the Zhaoyang Court found the investigative agency guilty with damages of 20,000 yuan for inflicting mental anguish.  The agency says that it intends to appeal the decision.  According to the lawyer for the agency, the magazine "Viewpoint and Investigation" is just a corporate internal publication.

Among the evidence presented by Wang Xianzang, there was an article in Qianjiang Evening News titled "The True Investigation of the Fake Beijing/Shanxi Reporters."  In this article, "Viewpoint and Investigation" was named along with their operator Beijing Tianping Viewpoint Society Investigation Agency as "an organized group of fake reporters."

Our reporter found a copy of the March 2004 issue of "Viewpoint and Investigation".  In a foreword titled "Social Responsibility and the Call of the People," the magazine declared: "Under the banner of 'Viewpoint and Investigation', a group of  young, passionate and bright news team ... creating a magazine that the readers will be satisfied with and love is our dream ..."

Our reporter then called the telephone number listed for the magazine.  In answering the telephone inquiry, the female receptionist repeatedly used the term "magazines" to describe the group's publications and claimed that these magazines belonged to the "Chinese Legal Cultural Media Publishing Group."  The receptionist also claimed that if people have experienced injustices, the three magazines are willing to report on them to complain on the people's behalf.  "Of course, the report requires an editorial fee based upon what the group director says."

... In looking at the website of the Chinese Legal Cultural Media Publishing Group, the reporter found out that the three magazines are now known as "Chinese Viewpoint and Investigation", "Chinese Police Viewpoint Special" and "Chinese Legal Investigation."  Among the three, "Chinese Viewpoint and Investigation" was described as an "in-depth reporting magazine on economics and society."

Upon information, the Chinese Legal Cultural Media Publishing Group was registered in Hong Kong for US$2,600 or just over 20,000 yuan.  The three magazines were all registered in Hong Kong as well, for US$673 or just over 5,000 yuan.  According to a company that specializes in registering overseas company, it is very easy to register a company in Hong Kong -- just pay the registration fee, provide a Hong Kong ID number and make up the name of the registered company, and everything will be completed within 15 days.  "The registered capital can be any amount.  According to local laws in Hong Kong, the registered company does not have to get its capital verified.  It is also possible to choose any name that you want."

According to Legal Daily, in the city Nanchang in Jiangxi province, someone once stacked up copies of "Chinese Viewpoint and Investigation" and "Chinese Police Viewpoint Special" by the roadside and offered people jobs to become reporters.  The person claimed that one can become both a reporter as well as an investigator of the Beijing Tianping Viewpoint Society Investigative Agency, because the magazines and the investigative agency are the same group.  When the Shanxi news department banned the "reporter station" of "Chinese Viewpoint and Investigation," they found that this was the same office as the Beijing Tianping Viewpoint Society Investigative Agency.  Normally, the "reporters" have two forms of identification: a "reporter's ID" and an "investigator's ID."  The "reporter's ID" is different from the ones issued by the news and publication administration.  These people go out normally as 'reporters'; when they have to accept money, they become 'investigators' and they issue receipts in the name of the Beijing Tianping Viewpoint Society Investigative Agency.

According to Chen Xinxin, deputy director of the Media and Information Laws Study Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the present Chinese legal system is not explicit enough about monitoring by opinion.  It is therefore easy for someone to exploit the opportunities provided by monitoring.