A cleaner press needed, as well as a freer one

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 December, 2008, 12:00am

Reporting news on the mainland is far from a straightforward business, as the case of Beijing journalist Guan Jian highlights. Authorities explained his two-week disappearance by revealing he had been detained for allegedly taking bribes and working without state approval. His newspaper said yesterday he was innocent of the charges. Wherever the truth lies, the case raises serious issues about the murky state of journalism on the mainland.

Guan's newspaper, Networking News, had no qualms in backing him to the hilt; it said he had an impeccable record and had uncovered many stories. It blamed official red tape for the fact he lacked a state licence. The newspaper's chief editor questioned why a reporter could be taken into custody for so long on such charges without his newspaper or his family being informed. There are, after all, clear rules on such matters.

However, it is not unusual for mainland journalists to take bribes to keep quiet about stories or to promote a particular matter. The practice has created a situation in which untrained people pose as reporters to get money. This problem must be tackled.

Officially, there is state control of what the media can and cannot say. Guan's case is not rare: newsmen and -women go missing from time to time and authorities reveal their whereabouts and the reason for their arrest only some time later.

The media has a central role to play in ridding the mainland of corruption and keeping officials and businesspeople honest. This can only happen if the industry cleans up its act. Authorities, for their part, should relax their controls on the media. Such changes are vital to the mainland's continued progress.