18th Party Congress

Child journalists grill ministers at China congress

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 6:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 6:28pm

The innocent but pointed questions from a pair of young reporters to officials at China’s Communist Party talks have provided a refreshing break from the usual fare of bland reports and rote answers.

The plucky 11-year-old reporters from Chinese Teenagers News have become a minor media sensation in their own right by highlighting hot-button issues that typically make authorities squirm, including food safety and rising prices.

Zhang Jiahe, press badge around his neck and “junior journalist” embroidered on his clothing, told China’s housing minister that rising accommodation costs were affecting disposable income – including for new toys.

“Our family has not bought a house but a few friends nearby have faced this problem,” he said at the normally tightly-scripted gathering that heralds the unveiling of a new leadership on Thursday.

Skyrocketing property prices have squeezed China’s growing urban population in recent years even as government controls have slowed their rise.

Meanwhile food safety scandals have put off Zhang’s colleague Sun Luyuan and her friends from eating their favourite snacks.

“I love snacks, but I don’t dare to eat snacks now because we see so many reports these days of problems with food products,” she asked high-level officials, according to the state-run China News Service.

“Why are these kinds of food products available for purchase?”

Many Chinese have become concerned about food safety after a spate of scandals including a vast contamination of milk powder in 2008 that killed six babies and sickened 300,000 others.

“I thought of the question myself,” Sun told reporters this week of last Friday’s press conference. “I think this issue is very important to us so I really wanted to ask this question.”

Sun said the delegates had all been friendly so she was not afraid to put queries to them on behalf of Chinese Teenagers News, which is affiliated with the Communist Youth League.

The pair’s supervisor told reporters they were selected for the assignment because they were among the best journalists at the paper.

For over an hour during a press conference on Monday, both faced forward and sat up straight, seemingly unfazed by the unending flashes as photographers captured their efforts.

But while the child reporters’ inquiries have been acute, they have only received standard answers.

Sun was given a stock response on food standards from officials who pledged the government was addressing the situation and putting proper safety measures in place – a line repeated for years even as the scandals have persisted.

Zhang had to compete for the moderator’s attention in a crowded conference room on Monday, leaping further and further out of his seat each time he shot his hand up to ask a question.

He was not called, but once the last question was fielded he ran to the dais and won the moderator’s help, racing to a side door as instructed to be whisked inside to meet the minister.

Zhang said he was told that continuing economic development would hopefully solve his neighbours’ problems.

He was “very satisfied” with the answer, he said.