A mainland journalist's decision to reveal details of a high-ranking official's wrongdoing in a microblog message rather than publish it in his magazine would appear to be a game-changer. Instead of censoring the allegations and punishing the reporter and those who spread his claims, authorities have given praise and the target, Liu Tienan , deputy director of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, has been sacked. The response is in keeping with President Xi Jinping's campaign to rid the Communist Party and government of corruption. It cannot be an isolated incident, though; if his aims are to be attained, the media - social and otherwise - have to be given free rein.
Lesser officials have been brought down by microblogs. A video posting of Lei Zhengfu , party chief of Chongqing's Beibei district, engaged in sex with a woman hired by developers seeking favours recently led to penalties against him and 20 others. Never before, though, has anyone of Liu's seniority been dealt with as a result of a microblog message.
Luo Changping , a deputy editor of the influential magazine Caijing, posted on his Sina Weibo account in December that Liu was involved in improper business dealings. The journalist has tens of thousands of followers and his claims quickly spread. Such messages involving top officials have in the past been removed and those behind them arrested. Luo's high profile and his timing as Xi was stepping up calls to fight corruption made silencing or ignoring his claims difficult.
The tactic skilfully gets around the censorship that is so much a part of the government's strategy for controlling information. But only a privileged few benefit from such censorship. It has led to corruption, neglect of the rule of law and ignoring of human rights. Allowing an independent media promotes transparency and accountability. There can also be informed public discussion and the government has a better chance of meeting the aspirations and concerns of society. Luo's case is a valuable lesson for the authorities.