The PR War of FoxConn verus Media
First, there are some blowbacks against the reporter and the editor in the FoxConn lawsuit (see, for example, Some differing views on Foxconn Joel Martinsen, Danwei). So let me restate the case for clarification.
The present brouhaha is not about a large corporation being rendered defenseless against yellow journalism under the name of freedom of press. (ChineseNewsNet) The veracity of the sweatshop factory reporting can be subject to public debate or litigation. The Chinese media workers are not opposing either approaches. They are opposing the draconian tactic of filing lawsuits not against the newspapers but against individual reporters and editors seeking astronomical amounts in damages and freezing personal assets (such as bank savings accounts, stocks, apartments, cars, etc) for the duration of the legal process. The latter is regarded as barbaric.
This is not a case about mainland Chinese media workers going after a Taiwan-capital company. It is true that Hon Hai groiup chief executive Terry Guo is not well-liked, but I believe (but obviously cannot prove) that the same storm would have resulted if the company were Chinese (for example, Haier). (ChineseNewsNet) When the media workers learned that the First Financial Daily reporter was sued for 20 million RMB and his editor for 10 million RMB in damages, they began to think: "My turn will be next someday." It also touched a sensitive nerve about the public space for free speech. In their daily lives, the media workers have to play all sorts of games to publish what they believe in. The action by FoxConn is perceived to be a restriction on an already restricted space. Unfortunately for FoxConn, they once had a case that could been pursued through public debate or litigation. Those options are closed now because this has become a defense of free speech in China as far as the Chinese media workers are concerned. This war is over and done with already. It was unwinnable as soon as the position was formulated.
Elsewhere, I dropped a comment at Imagethief and he has replied with an analysis of the FoxConn situation from the public relations angle (see What was FoxConn thinking?). Now, if there is a public relations war, then there are two sides in the battlefield. Imagethief has covered the FoxConn side. I will present what is happening with the other side.
Sina.com gave the editor Weng Bao and the reporter Wang You of First Financial Daily their own blog 第一财经日报翁宝王佑 and then publicized it heavily. The first post appeared on August 28 at 16:10; as of the morning of August 30, the visitor counter is more than 300,000. The reporter Wang You has a Sohu.com blog, which was started on August 28 at 17:42; less than two days later, the visitor counter is more than 950,000. The editor Weng Bao has a Sohu.blog, and the visitor counter is more than 1,115,000.
In reading the blog posts of Weng and Wang, you have to note that media workers know how to write this type of story.
This is Weng Bao's Sina.com entry on August 30, 2006.
At the Beijing airport, I called my mother. As soon as the call was connected, I immediately heard my mother crying. I will remember that pitiful terror for the rest of my life. I know that the hardest thing for me to accept has occurred. My father and mother only learned about what happened yesterday because the news is everywhere by now. First, they read the local Nanguo Metropolis Daily. Then a relative showed them how to read the news on the Internet (this was their first ever experience with the Internet) and told them what was written there. Over the telephone, my mother kept repeating through her sobs: "Son, we are good people. Good people have good ends. You must be strong."
When I turned the mobile phone off, my eyes were blurry with tears.
This is Wang You as quoted in the front page story in Southern Metropolis Daily:
My parents bought the apartment and they put in under my name. My bank savings was put in there also by my parents and I did not even know its exists ... Right now, I can only put in a half effort in my regular work. There is a shadow cast over my work because I am always worried ... but I will not stop being a reporter ...
The Weng/Wang blog even attracted a letter from Joyce Kuang ,the Commercial Times reporter who had gone through the same type of experience in Taiwan.
I was very surprised to hear this news, because I did not imagine that the same thing would happen in mainland.
From the time that the incident occurred to today, I have never said anything to the outside world because this incident caused a great deal of damage and impact on my family.
I was once concerned about finance reporters in general. In an age where the power of the corporations exceeds those of the nation, the law seems unable to provide any protection for media workers. But I did not give up as a reporter. I don't want to look at the future of reporters negatively, but I want to know what everybody can do when these corporations go over the media organizations to get to the reporters directlys.
In my case, the Assocation of Taiwan Journalists president did a lot of work and many colleagues also spoke out. Today, nobody in Taiwan has been subjected to the same treatment by Hon Hai, even though the lawsuits seem to be continuing.
Finally, I believe that the power of social opinion was very important in reaching a settlement. You can go on the Taiwan news websites to look that up.
I salute the reporters who have been subject to the treatment. I believe that they must be under a lot of psychological pressure. But please do not abandon your ideals and hopes for journalism.
Weng Bao's entry then gets into business:
1. Hon Hai is famous for being "litigious," often posting bonds in order to freeze the assets of the other party for the duration of the legal proceedings. We have begun to learn about a number of related cases, and we could see that this type of method could prove fatal to a small corporation (which does not match up to Hong Hoi). When your capital is frozen and your assets are tied down, your operations come to a stop. The legal process can also strangle any corporation. So our issue is the corporate method of using litigation and assets to hit the competition and all the corresponding damaging consequences. We ask any corporations or individuals who have gone through this to share their experiences with us.
2. In the development of FoxConn in Hualung (Shenzhen), what did Hualung get from Foxconn? We need to do the accounting: such as tax contributions, employment, infrastruction construction, elevating the level of technology, environmental impact, ecological development, the sense of well-being of the local residents, the relationsihp between the development of FoxConn and the local harmony among social groups. Or is this a simple case of trading the ecological environment for local employment and GDP growth?
In this PR war, FoxConn sticks to the stone-wall of "no comment on pending litigation." In contrast, the media workers are telling deeply emotional and personal stories that are being read by millions of people in China every day, and then also asking a lot of difficult questions about FoxConn's business practices. Who is the David and who is the Goliath in this battle?
Terry Guo versus Wang You -- where do your sympathies lie?