(OhmyNews) Hong Kong Blogger Denies Government Snooping. By Sunny Lee. September 8, 2006.
You are a foreign journalist assigned to China, but you don't speak the local language. What should you do?
Answer: you can either hire a Chinese assistant who speaks English or you can visit Roland Soong's Web log. Many foreign journalists do so, including those working for the New York Times the Washington Post and yes, OhmyNews!
Actually, it may also be noted that those journalists who speak fluent Chinese also refer to Soong's blog because it has become essential reading for reporters anyway. And the number is increasing daily by word of mouth.
So, what's his secret?
You guessed it. It's free to read his blog! But that hardly explains some 15,000 to 20,000 visitors a day, mostly serious journalists and China-watchers around the world.
Roland Soong's English-language Web log "EastSouthWestNorth" (www.zonaeuropa.com) deals with Chinese politics and media in a manner that is arguably the "most content-rich, reliable and illuminating," according to a Reuters reporter.
Former CNN Beijing bureau chief, Rebecca MacKinnon, also described Soong as follows: "when it comes to English coverage [of China], no other source beats the Hong Kong-based blogger, Roland Soong."
That's quite a compliment coming from the mainstream press.
He demonstrates what citizen-journalism can do
Roland Soong is a Shanghai-born American. He lived in the United States for 32 years in New York and now resides in Hong Kong. Soong emphasizes that he is not doing it for the money. "I make zero money out of it. And it costs me 120 yuan ($15 USD) a month to keep my web service. That's something I can afford," he said this week in Beijing.
Some people see him as "agenda-driven." He doesn't deny it. He actually sees himself as a "media activist." According to him, he writes his blog keeping in mind two groups of readers in China: one in Beijing and the other in Shanghai -- the two cities in China where foreign correspondents reside.
Soong spends an average of 4 to 8 hours a day doing near real-time translations of Chinese Web postings or other documents making headlines. Often, his work deals with sensitive topics in China such as rural civil unrest or press freedom.
He said that some of these foreign reporters thanked him for providing story ideas and also for his "accomplishing actually some of what professional journalists are doing."
There is no Chinese government interloping.
Given the fact that he covers many stories that are missing in the state-controlled official media, Ohmynews asked Soong whether he has ever received any "feedback" from the Chinese government for what he is doing. He flatly responded, "No."
"I have never been approached by the Beijing government for what I'm doing. I do what I want to do. I do it personally. It's a one-man operation. Besides, I live in Hong Kong. I enjoy more freedom than people in mainland China."
But he seems also conscious of the fact that he is conducting something delicate. "If I am arrested, will the journalist organizations come to my assistance?" he wrote in his blog.
"I have a very strange relationship with China."
He does not project himself as "pro-Western" either. Actually, he said part of his motivation was his frustration with Western media that shows only partial views of China.
"English media is different from China media. So, I am providing service to the Western public by translating Chinese into English so that the English media could catch up with the Chinese media."
He added that many events in China are available only in Chinese language. And he is "taking the Chinese side and showing it to the Western world" without being judgmental. In fact, many of his blog posts are straight translations of Chinese articles into English.
"I am not here to change the world and I am not here to impress anybody. At this moment, I am interested in communicating to the English-world about what the Chinese-world is up to," he said in an earlier interview with Andres Gentry, a commentator in Hong Kong.
Actually, Soong's blog is not blocked in mainland China -- most of the time. He was blocked only once. "I have a very strange relationship with China. With one small exception, I have never been blocked. But they steal from me. They steal selectively [from my writings]," he wrote in his blog.
"Don't fight with pigs"
In Beijing, this week, he spared some time to hang out with some "real" journalists, including the folks like Michael Anti from the New York Times. Yet with fame, there also comes defamation, including character assassination and disrespectful comments. Maybe they are unavoidable in this Internet age where one can easily hide one's identity in anonymity.
As for the negative comments he receives, he confesses that he is "notorious" for not responding. Non-response is his philosophy of responding to verbal attacks on the Internet. "Do not wrestle with pigs in the mud. You get dirty and pigs enjoy it."