Investigative Journalism in China
A Commitment to the Public Interest and the Truth
Despite the depressing factors mentioned above, there are still many cases that Chinese investigative journalists bravely confronted vested interests and exposed wrongdoings with striking integrity. There exist positive dynamics that facilitate serious investigative journalism practicing in China.
1. Chinese investigative journalists are seen as models of professional practice.
Revealing social injustice and official wrongdoing in favor of the public, even at considerable personal sacrifice, Chinese Investigative journalists have established a reputation and are signalized as the professional ideology for journalists. Therefore, successful investigative journalists enjoy high prestige and social status both from the public and in the journalistic circle. Furthermore, they are better paid than their peers.
For example, most Chinese journalistic undergraduate pride themselves in getting an internship in prestigious investigative newspapers like Southern Metropolitan Daily. The newspaper itself is recognized as an ‘‘excellent training school’’ for journalists, its staff can enjoy the opportunities for ‘‘professional excellence’’ there. (Fan, 2005, p. 373)
Also, journalists who left Southern Metropolitan Daly or Southern weekend have mostly been hired as high-ranking staff in other media organizations. (Liu, et al., 2004)
The professional ideology has kept encouraging more and more young journalists to follow, thus providing continued vigour for investigative journalism in China.
2. Chinese tradition of public intellectuals articulating society’s conscience
The media scholar Hugo DE Borgh has commented that Chinese investigative journalists have been striving to realize roles traditional to Chinese culture, rather than adopting foreign models.
Similarly, as Tong and Sparks (2009) mentioned, in Chinese history, there has been a tradition that intellectuals speak for the public against the authorities. Recently in China, Journalists consider themselves less as docile hacks and more as public servants. To some extent, it can be perceived that this morality originates from this Chinese tradition, that intellectuals should articulate society’s conscience. This responsibility made many Chinese investigative journalists remain committed to seeking the truth.
The Internet has boomed investigative journalism
The most prominent change is the use of the Internet. The Internet has aided the development of investigative journalism in two aspects.
Firstly, the Internet provides a good source of stories. For instance, at the Southern Metropolitan Daily more than 80 per cent of investigative reports originate from online sources. (Tong and Sparks, 2009)
Secondly, the Internet can give stories access to a much wider audience. In traditional media outlets, like local newspapers and TVs, audience is limited to residence in a certain area. But if an investigative report is posted on the web, people from worldwide can learn the story, thereby exerting a more profound influence.
The 2007 case of Shanxi Brickfield Slave Scandal is a good example of the Internet effect. In May, a journalist from a local TV found a story from a local online forum that the brick-making industrialists in Shanxi province were forcing workers working in slavery. The journalist produced an investigative reportage and broadcast it on TV.
“Although these stories attracted the attention of the locals, they found no wider coverage and failed to trigger any official action against the slave owners.” On 5 June, however, a user posted the story on the influential Tianya online forum and promoted it strongly. “This led to an outcry that forced the central party leadership to intervene. Dozens of slaves, including many children, were freed, and employers and officials were punished.” (Tong and Sparks, 2009, p.346)
In sum, investigative journalism in China has flourished in the late 30 years, investigative journalists enjoy high social status and high payment, the Chinese tradition has been prompting many journalists to make commitment to their course and public interest. To retain practice, some cautious strategies have been adopted. The emergence of the Internet is a boomed in investigative journalism.