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Why can't the Chinese press report on bird flu properly?

Caijing requests honesty about bird flu

Caijing magazine is China's best business magazine and has a reputation for independence and investigative reporting.

The editor-in-chief is Hu Shuli, whom The Economist once called "the most dangerous woman in China". She has written an editorial in the current issue of Caijing asking why the Chinese media is doing such a bad job of covering avian influenza. Here are two telling excerpts:

But despite [the greater transparency of the government in the wake of SARS], the domestic press still lags noticeably behind in its coverage. News about the virus often takes a detour to reach domestic audiences: it is first covered by foreign media, and then picked up by domestic press. Journalists sent to infected areas also say that local officials have not been cooperative enough...

...Clearly, we still have a ways to go in China to create completely transparent mechanisms for media scrutiny and the release of information to the public. But only by doing this can we build an environment conducive to enhancing public health and national health standards. In this sense, the latest round of bad news about avian flu, as worrying as it is, may prove to be a blessing in disguise. It calls attention to our inadequacies.

Hu's editorial is titled "Epidemic information should not be exported before being released domestically", rendered on the English section of Caijing's website as "Why Must Chinese Press Take a Detour for Virus Info?"

The answer to that question is sadly very clear: the government fears an open media, and the media in China is meek and timid.

This writer and other foreigners can complain until the birds drop from the sky about the state of media in China and nothing will change. It is only when a greater number of Chinese media workers themselves stand up for the integrity of their profession that there will be any progress.

UPDATE: Shanghai blogger Bingfeng begs to differ:

from what i know, the accusations brought by Caijing magazine are not tenable. chinese media do react to the bird flu in a proper and prompt way, it's proper because the way they reported the cases reflects a balance betwen media professionalism and social responsibility, it's prompt because they reported the cases in the earliest time they could report.

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