At last, a provocative tale that breaks an old taboo

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am

Kudos to journalists at the outspoken and popular Southern People Weekly, who put reviled Japanese politician Shintaro Ishihara on its front cover last week. Government censors should also be praised for allowing the copies to hit the newsstands, even though they later censored the online version.

For those who don't know Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo since 1999, he is downright anti-communist, and a far-right nationalist, sexist and racist, to name but a few tags often used to describe him.

He openly advocates the splitting of China, supports Taiwan's independence from the mainland, denies the 1937 Nanking Massacre took place, constantly and openly criticises the Chinese government, and deliberately angers mainland authorities by inviting the Dalai Lama and former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui to Tokyo.

Until the 14-page package about him in last week's Southern People Weekly, Ishihara's name was mentioned in the mainland media only in reports in which he was the pinata of ferocious attacks for his far-right comments against the Chinese government.

Indeed, the magazine broke a long-standing taboo under which the mainland media are not supposed to interview or play up stories of people who openly criticise or disagree with the central government, for fear of glorifying their views.

The weekly's story proved that view wrong by offering objective, responsible and professional coverage on a subject that has been seldom explored, just as its editors have promised.

The reactions from readers have largely been positive, with many concluding that the story was thought-provoking.

Isn't that what mainlanders need most? As international concerns build over the mainland's rising economic power, intentions and human rights record, shouldn't it be the responsibility of the mainland media to give the public the unvarnished views of those who disagree with them so that they can be better informed and make better decisions?

Let's hope that more mainland media outlets will follow the lead of the Southern People Weekly and cover more issues that are rarely debated. Good candidates might include the pro-independence Lee Teng-hui or Chen Shui-bian, or mainland activists such as Hu Jia or even the Dalai Lama, whose views about the central government and communism are much milder than those of Ishihara.

Another news item that played out intensively in the mainland media and on the internet last week was that the Shanghai-listed Yili, the mainland's largest dairy company, accused Hong Kong-listed Mengniu, the second largest, of a smear campaign against its baby milk formula products.

A former ranking executive at Mengniu and senior employees of its online marketing firm have been arrested for planning and organising the campaign.

After several days of obfuscating and denying, Mengniu finally apologised to Yili and consumers on Friday, blaming An Yong, a brand manager of its liquid milk division, for acting alone to work with a contracted public relations firm to spread malicious rumours about Yili's products. As many internet users have pointed out, Mengniu's assertion is hard to believe.

According to reports, the month-long campaign organised by An and the marketing firm was extensive, sophisticated and detailed, with a total cost of nearly 300,000 yuan (HK$349,000). It is very difficult to imagine that a brand manager could secure such a large amount of money without prior approval from higher authorities at the company.

Mengniu's statement came after reports that senior leaders including an unidentified Politburo member, Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu and Hu Chunhua - party chief of Inner Mongolia, where both companies are based - have intervened and urged a quick solution.

This probably means that An will be the only scapegoat and everything else will be swept under the carpet in the name of protecting the country's dairy industry. The sector is still recovering from the scandal of the melamine-tainted baby formula, which killed at least six children and left about 300,000 ill nationwide, as well as causing international concerns over the mainland's food safety record.

This lack of transparency is plainly wrong. It is precisely because of the need to safeguard the battered reputation of the dairy industry and protect the health of the children that the central government should launch a thorough investigation into the latest scandal and see if top executives are involved.

As Mengniu noted in its statement, it was also victim of smear campaigns in 2003 and 2004 organised by Yili, which promised to pay a Beijing public relations company 5.92 million yuan. The head of that firm has been arrested.

Low-level officials or PR officials could not have mastered such campaigns, and sweeping those scandals under the carpet can serve only to lay foundations for bigger scandals in the future.

For a start, the chairman of Mengniu should resign and take leadership responsibility for the scandal.