Clamp on paid stories a joke, say journalists
GEOFFREY CROTHALL in Beijing
Laughter could be heard echoing around the news rooms of Beijing's newspapers and television stations yesterday morning as journalists read the front page commentary in the People's Daily.
The commentary from the Communist Party's Propaganda Department entitled 'Strengthen professional ethics; strictly prohibit paid news' marked yet another attempt to stamp out the routine practice of mainland journalists accepting cash and other inducements to write favourable stories.
'We just burst out laughing,' said a Beijing newspaper reporter.
'They have tried many times to stamp out paid news but without success. Paid news is an integral part of the business now.' Indeed, the commentary noted that the Propaganda Department had first issued a notice in 1993 banning paid news and followed that up with similar notice in 1994.
While claiming that professional standards had been raised as a result, it noted that paid news had not been eradicated and, in fact, was becoming more common.
'Paid news is scandalous in any country, not to mention our socialist nation,' the commentary said. 'All media must first and foremost keep in mind politics, and keep in mind the interests of the state and the people.' Journalists defended the acceptance of inducements to write stories on the grounds that they were poorly paid.
'It is now established practice for companies and organisations to offer money to journalists; we don't even have to ask anymore,' said a television reporter in Beijing.
'You can call it unethical if you like, but it is no different from the kind of bribery that is commonplace throughout society today. Why should journalists be singled out for special attention?' Analysts suggested the party's concern over paid news was not so much about ethics as about maintaining control over the media.
'If journalists are being paid by companies and others to write articles, then obviously the official news gets pushed to one side. The party is very aware of this and is understandably worried,' a social scientist said.