Beijing is not known for having great respect for press freedom. While business news reporting may enjoy more leeway, a tight grip over the media means reporting is still far from being free and independent. Nonetheless, for some journalists the public's right to know is still their guiding work principle. Despite this difficult environment, they see it as their duty to expose injustice and wrongdoings, sometimes at the expense of their own safety. The latest case involving the detention of a Guangzhou journalist seeking to expose alleged commercial fraud involving a business giant shows the control is unusually heavy-handed.
What happened to Chen Yongzhou is disturbing. The New Express reporter wrote a 15-part investigative series that detailed alleged fraud committed by construction equipment giant Zoomlion. The allegations were rejected by the company. Chen was later detained by Changsha police and accused of fabricating facts and damaging the company's commercial reputation. Pressure intensified after the tabloid ran a front-page appeal twice urging Chen's release. The call was backed by several mainland newspapers.
In a rare move, the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television also voiced concerns over the arrest. The All-China Journalists Association said it had taken the case to the Ministry of Public Security. The strong reaction in the industry shows the detention is unacceptable.
The detention comes at a time when the state is seen to be taking a hard-line approach to online dissent. Concerns have been raised whether the municipal authorities are riding on the campaign to impose an even tighter grip on the media. Chen was just doing legitimate news reporting. If the articles are found to be inaccurate, the company can seek redress in other ways and, if necessary, sue the newspaper through a civil proceeding. Detaining a journalist seeking to expose the truth has sent the wrong message about Beijing's anti-graft commitment and respect for the rule of law.