The media should focus on grassroots issues, says Hu Jintao. The gag on reporting Sun's death shows change will be hard Sun Zhigang's death came under the media spotlight when the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolitan News reported the incident last month. But following the public uproar surrounding the case, the city government quickly gagged all local media. Ironically, the move came soon after President Hu Jintao had called for the mainland press to pay more attention to local issues, rather than covering the activities of the top leadership. Mr Hu's position was echoed by Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun, who is in charge of mainland media policy. He called on the media to introduce more 'innovation' and focus on grassroots' coverage. Robert Spellman, a journalism scholar at the American Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, said the media was an effective tool to curb corruption. 'Publicity is the best defence against corruption, which is sapping China's economy,' said Professor Spellman, a Pulitzer prize-winning veteran journalist. In a pilot scheme which could have a far-reaching impact on the future of its press and government officials, Urumqi, in Xinjiang province, has given the media freedom to expose local officials' misconduct. According to the new crime prevention law, which came into effect yesterday, the media is allowed to 'supervise officials' proper implementation of their duty'. The legislation, which was passed on March 28 and is the first of its kind on the mainland, provides protection for the media should it expose leadership corruption, Yang Zhijie, a deputy procurator in Urumqi, was quoted by China News Service as saying. Cui Xiaoming, a senior research fellow with the journalism school at Shantou University in Guangdong, said the pilot scheme was probably implemented in remote Xinjiang because it was 'not the most corrupt city'. 'If the law is effective in stopping corruption, I hope it will be gradually implemented in other places throughout the country,' said Mr Cui. Following the alleged poisoning of soya milk in Liaoning province last month, in which one child died and 2,500 fell ill, Xinhua, in an uncharacteristically critical commentary, said people had a right to know the truth and local government had a responsibility to inform them. Scholars see such criticism from official media as a warning from the central government to lower-ranking officials who have attempted to keep secrets. To Yiu-ming, an associate professor with the Department of Journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University, said local authorities were regularly cheating the central government, which was now using the media in an effort to obtain reliable information. 'Only when the media forces local governments to tell the truth will the central government get the complete picture,' said Professor To. Xinhua's attack, on 15 April, came in the wake of signs that the new leadership in Beijing wanted to introduce 'media supervision' - in other words, limited press autonomy to expose corruption or scandals related to lower-ranking officials. When Premier Wen Jiabao took up his post in March he urged the media to hold government officials - including himself - accountable to the public. Echoing a similar pledge by Mr Hu, Mr Wen said his cabinet would seek to uphold the rule of law and subject itself to the supervision of the people and the media. The contradiction presented by the top leadership's call for more media scrutiny, on the one hand, and orders to stop reporting issues such as Sun's death, reveal just how difficult media reform will be.