Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Reporting in China: Child Confiscations in Gaoping

Jessica Chen of Al Jazeera writes about the difficulties of reporting in China, using as an example her video story on the child confiscations by family planning authorities:
Sometimes men show up but don't do anything to stop us. It is against the law in China to obstruct foreign journalists from reporting freely. This was set out in a directive signed by Premier Wen Jiabao. Government officials therefore have come up with creative ways to make reporting difficult and circumvent the central government's rules without technically breaking the law. They might hire local boys to intimidate our team. By sub-contracting out intimidation to non-uniformed groups, there's no proof the government is behind any reporting interference.

It was sheer luck that thugs showed up at Yang Libing's house while he was away. Mr. Yang, if you've had a chance to watch our report, is the father whose baby daughter was forcefully taken away from him by corrupt officials looking to profit by handing children over to adoption agencies. He was running late that morning, and what ended up happening was a rather awkward uncertainty as our team and these thugs looked at each other. They knew we were from Al Jazeera. I don't know how they knew that. They had been driving around searching specifically for us. They stood there and sized us up. In the end, the men sauntered away, ambivalent about the situation themselves. Had Mr. Yang been there, I imagine they would have stayed, their very presence meant to unnerve the person we hoped to interview. I must say we are often saved by the fact that many of the "Black Audi" types don't really understand how television newsgathering is conducted. Perhaps they believed we would also saunter off after a time, given the absence of Mr. Yang. We did not walk away, of course, but waited until he returned to speak to him.

We later learned that after our interview and past midnight that evening, those men came back -- and were not so ambivalent. They interrogated Mr. Yang for more then ten hours and warned him to stop talking to journalists. Since then, Mr. Yang's phone has generally been off.

Intimidating sources and not reporters has become a more common practice by the Chinese government to block information. Often we speak to incredibly vulnerable people at the lowest socio-economic rung. It is easy to bully them into submission. But even then, it is remarkable that in my years of reporting in China, many people remain willing to speak to journalists despite the danger of retaliation. They perceive that a great injustice has been done to them and feel the need to articulate that. Many also feel they have nothing to lose. In the case of Mr. Yang, I do believe he must've felt he had nothing to lose. He'd lost his child. His house was a wood and brick shack, his floor of dirt, and his farming tools not much changed, it appeared, from the ones farmers used in the 19th century.
Thanks to ACT (Against Child Trafficking) for the link.

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