The Cassette Tapes With Orange Stickers

In Behind The Scenes Of CCTV's News Investigation

Since broadcasting first on May 17, 1996, CCTV's program "News Investigation" has gone through ten years.  The 459 episodes, together with the programs that were given orange stickers and locked away in a cabinet because they could not be broadcast, form a historical record of a television's non-stop pursuit of the truth.  They also provide a record of some perspectives and fragments of China during a period of transformation.

Wang Zhi, Chang Jiang, Chai Jing ... the audience is familiar with these reporters who appear on camera.  But the stories behind the programs are seldom known: How did they break through the news blockade?  How did they deal with the evil dark forces?  Did they encounter 'public relations' efforts prior to broadcasts?

In the follow, there translations from two more articles about those PR efforts and one program with orange sticker in the cabinet.

(China Youth Daily via Qihoo)

[in translation]

In producer Zhang Jie's view, bringing out good progams always puts pressure on the producers.  The pressure may come cause a good investigative report (especially one about public opinion oversight) to be shelved forever.  Zhang Jie calls this a constant pressure because the public relations efforts of the investigative subjects "are responses that are like human instincts.  Your program is touching the interests of certain people.  You are affecting his reputation, his wealth, his official job and you may even cost him his life."

"The bad thing about these public relations efforts," said Zhang Jie, "is that they represent another corrupt act practiced by these people -- they spend taxpayers' money to fly back and forth, to pay for meals and gifts and to stay at luxury hotels.  All this is to protect the interests of one or two people, or at most a small number of people."

A broadly circulated saying is that there is usually two long lines in front of the offices of the Focus Interview program: one of them is for the petitioners who travel from all over to country to tell their stories to the Focus Interview program and the other one is for the cadres who travel from all over the county and stay at hotels to ask Focus Interview not to broadcast anything critical about them.

The public relations line in front of the News Investigation program may not be shorter than that for Focus Interviews.  As a program, Focus Interviews broadasts only 13 minutes per day and it may be shown on the same day when the interview was taped.  News Investigation has 45 minutes of program each week.  From filming to production to editing to broadcasting, there may be as much as two weeks for the public relations people to "queue up."

Zhang Jie confirmed to the reporter that public relations occur almost for any segments that is about public opinion oversight.  As a result, certain program tapes were pasted with orange stickers and then locked away in the cabinet.  But most of the programs are shown as scheduled.

"Every influential oversight News Investigation program that was shown was the result of everybody at the station, and sometimes including leaders who are above the station, resisting the public relations efforts," said Zhang Jie.

After having been a news investigative reporter for three years, Chai Jing is increasingly convinced about what an American lawyer once said: The truth is a bottomless pit.

At News Investigation, no editor will say: We can grasp the truth.  The more Chai Jing worked, the more she felt that the truth is unreachable.  For them, the process of exploration is more meaningful than the outcome.

"The search for truth is a certain posture and attitude.  It is a direction to strive towards."  This is how Zhang Jie looks at the slogan for News Investigation: "Search for the truth of the matter."

This is not an easy path to follow.  There was one period of time in which only 50% of the programs were being shown, especially in year 2000.  "Wherever the truth is being hidden somewhere, there should be news to report" became harder to realize, as more than a dozen programs were spiked.

For this reason, some editors were unwilling to work on investigative reports.  So there was this phenomenon that a certain good investigative topic was placed in the database for 3 months or even 6 months without any takers because of the difficulty and the risks.

So News Investigation established a ratings system.  This ratings system is very explicit about its purpose.  An investigative report will receive a higher rating and therefore the film/production crew will receive higher bonus pay.  Thus, any investigative report will receive 10 points to 20 points extra, depending on the difficulty and degree of antagonism.  There was also a risk-based compensation system for investigative reports.  For any investigative report that was completed, accepted by the producer and subsequently prevented from being broadcast, the film/production crew shall receive 80% of the normal bonus pay and the risks will be borne by the producer.

Presently, Zhang Jie is keeping himself away from contacts with officials and business owners.  He explained, "If you want to deal with bad practices, you must be fair and objective and you must be sympathetic.  You must not let power and money affect the fairness of the reports.  You must resist temptation.  Once you become friends, oversight is no longer possible."

"We want to be reporters who expose evils and so we cannot have questions about our lives."  When they go out to gather news (including positive reports), Zhang Jie requires the program team to pay for all expenses.  This is regarded as peculiar in the news business, and is scorned at by many media.  But Zhang Jie and his colleagues insist that "an investigative reporter must pay attention to the finer details.  Being clean, honest and fair are the professional bottom lines of reporters."

This kind of insistence sometimes causes Zhang Jie to feel sorry for his colleagues: they are struggling to maintain a lofty goal, and yet they are facing very concrete and difficult problems in their personal lives: many of them have come to Beijing from elsewhere and therefore have no residence permits.  So they each have to face many mundane problems, such as trying to get a mortgage loan to buy an apartment.

There was an international conference about investigative news reporting held at Juyongguan in year 2004.  Zhang Jie showed a photograph at the end of his presentation.  It was that of a little boy with a bright smile.

Zhang Jie said, "This is my child.  In 2003, I took over the management of this program and I also became the father of a child.  He is my future.  The children are the future of China.  We hope that in the China when they grow up, there will not be as much corruption, there will not be as much injustice, there will not be as much environmental pollution ... the reason why we insist on our ideals now is to hope that they will live better.  Everything that we do now is related to our future."

(Daqi)  The Unshown "Kneeling Deputy Mayor" program.  By Chai Jing.

Shanghai.  The allowable hotel expense rate was capped at a standard of 300 RMB.  Where shall we stay?  We were discussing.

I thought of one place.

But I was hesitant and I did not want to mention it.

It was a hotel built in 1846.  On the Bund.  Very famous.  Einstein stayed there.  The ceiling is more than 4 meters tall.  There are engravings on the wall.  The ancient desk lamps are made of iron.

We stayed there in 2003, and we were working with a woman named Li Yuchun.

Yes, that is the insider who exposed the case of the kneeling deputy mayor who was laundering money.

I poured her a cup of water and then the interview began.  Three hours of interviewing.  She did not sip a drop.

And she did not shed a single drop of tear.

Her face was squarish.  She has a very strong jawline.  The powder was very white and the lips were very red.

"Are you his lover?"

"If I said yes and then he can be arrested for improper relationship, I will say yes in front of the camera."

Her hatred showed on her face.

"You also participated in the things that you just described.  You have legal liabilities."

She said, "My greatest hope is to be able to testify against him in a court of law as a tainted witness."

After the interview was over, she did not leave.  She just sat there.

"You people go ahead and do your own things," she said.  "I'll sit here for a while."

She just sat there and looked at our busy office.  She sat for a long time.

As she was leaving, she said, "This office is the safest place in the world."

In her own words, she has been in flight for quite some time.

Everything that she said has to be verified.  We were going to her Shanghai office to obtain the evidence.

At the airport, she wore a wig and sunglasses.

No, that was no exaggeration.

Just a couple of days ago, seven or eight men came to her mother's house.  They posted insulting and threatening big-character posters on the door, they smashed the windows and warned that the family will be be "evaporated" if the photographs and promissory note are not handed over.

Her young brother slept with an axe by his bedside every night.  Finally, he was involved in a fight with several unidentified persons, stabbed one of them and was arrested.

When we went to the Shanghai police to obtain the proof that she had been abducted, we got the evidence.  But the police officer looked at her and said, "The Shandong police was here earlier and said that this woman is a criminal suspect.  If she shows up in Shanghai, we are to inform the Shangdong police to arrest her."

When the police officer got up to make the telephone call, she waited until he stepped out the door and immediately bolted out from the back door.

Then she went to the nearest long-distance bus station and got on the next bus out.

That evening, we circled around and around and then we found a place to stay.  Then we called her and she took the bus back.

This was that hotel.  She stayed next door to me.

During the day, the hotel has a long and spacious corridor with wall photographs of various important persons from around the world.  The black wooden floor was polished.  During the night, the floor began to squeak noisily as if unknown persons are calling from afar.  There were all sorts of strange noises coming out of this old building.

The sound of the steam whistle from the river before going to bed was not reassuring.  I leaned against the wall on the bed.  I can hear her washing up on the other side of the wall.  I felt better.

Then the sound of water stopped suddenly.  I thought that I heard a clear gunshot.  Then another one.

All of a sudden, I stood up from my bed.

Fear causes the taste buds to taste bitter.

Long after I verified that she was safe, the bitter taste lingered on.

When we returned to Beijing, her mother also visited our office.  As soon as she entered, she got down on her knees and cried to us: "Save my son and daughter!  It does not matter how the public trial is done as long as they are not wrongfully judged."

We are only reporters.  All we can do is to produce a program that is faithful to the facts.  Then we broadcast it.

But, sometimes we cannot even do that.

That particular program was affixed with an orange sticker and put in the cabinet before it ever got shown.  Li Yuchun sent me a SMS: "I used to think that when I found your office, I was finding justice and hope."

And then I watched with eyes open what happened next.

In June 2004, she contacted the Chinese Public Opinion Surveillance Net and went public about this case.

On June 24, the "kneeling deputy mayor" Li Xin was placed under "double discipline" (note: asked to explain the facts of the matter at a designated time/location).  On the previous day, she was arrested by the Shangdong Linyi police in Beijing for "suspected cover-up."

On July 8, 2004, the Dezhou City middle court issued the ruling that her younger brother Li Dengfeng be given the death sentence, suspended for two years.

In November 2004, the mother of Li Yuchun died suddenly from a heart attack.

In January 2005, Li Yuchun was sentenced to five years in prison.

On July 5, 2005, the Shandong province Weifang City middle court issued the ruling that Li Xin be sentenced to life imprisonment for accepting bribes, permanent deprivation of his political rights and confiscation of all his personal wealth.


So in Shanghai, we looked around for a long time until we finally found a small hotel with tiny rooms.  We stayed there.

In order to forget a certain matter, it was necessary not to listen the vibrating sounds of the old wooden floor.