Spend some time with mainland financial journalists and you will soon learn many are active players in the domestic stock markets. How much of their reporting is objective is hard to say, although it is not uncommon to find examples of reporting skewed by self-interest - a problem the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) is trying hard to eradicate. This is not peculiar to China. All emerging markets face the same problem to some degree. In mature markets, there is a code of ethics governing investments by financial journalists. Generally, they keep securities watchdogs informed of their investments. The watchdogs can then keep an eye on their reporting to ensure impartiality. There is thus a system of checks to prevent financial journalists from taking advantage of their positions - which give them privileged access to top managers of listed companies and sometimes price-sensitive information - and from misleading readers. In China, readers find it hard to tell if the corporate reporting is fair and balanced. This is not to suggest impartial financial reporting does not exist at all in some newspapers. But it would do readers a great deal of good if a code of ethics is strictly enforced to ensure no conflict of interest. In China, there is no such code and, even if there is, enforcement is difficult. The watchdog bodies on local and national levels are grossly under-staffed. They do not have enough bodies to scrutinise the corporate behaviour of the 500-odd listed companies on the two exchanges, let alone that of financial journalists. There is yet another hurdle governing financial reporting. It is no secret that many companies pay financial journalists to write about them. The payment may be an outright sum for a report of a certain length or a routine payment often termed as 'transport fees' for attending a press conference. So widespread is the practice that it has come to be seen as a perk for being a financial journalist. On paper, financial reporters are poorly paid, but add the extras they receive from companies and their salaries usually fall between 2,000 and 4,000 yuan (between about HK$1,860 and $3,720) a month, not bad by mainland standards. Their access to top managers of listed companies gives them more opportunities than ordinary investors to profit from their jobs. Trading on inside information is thus not uncommon among many financial journalists. The upshot of this is that readers may be easily misled by news reports. Few readers are discerning enough to detect the reporting bias. This bothers the CSRC considerably. There is little it can do, though, besides issuing warnings to financial newspapers for printing unfounded market rumours or stories to fuel stock market speculation. So unless mainland newspaper editors take it on themselves to ensure impartiality, readers will just have to make do with what they have.