Media business

Who's responsible for media cover-ups?

The press doesn't like getting played. Witness the way Chinese journalists turned on CBN after the newspaper reached a harmonious agreement with manufacturer FoxConn over what may or may not have been a truthful report on poor working conditions. What had previously been a shared sense of accomplishment at getting a ruthless corporate entity to back off its attempt to silence criticism left a bad taste in the mouth of many reporters - was it hype? Were they tricked into giving their support? Where are all the facts?

The same thing happens fairly frequently with reports on disasters. When the government withholds the facts or actively disseminates misleading information, the press has a hard time doing its job even if the topic has not been forced from the papers.

The lead editorial in yesterday's China Times, written by Ren Mengshan, speculates on some of the causes for this lack of transparency:

Why have cover-ups become habitual?

Recently, reporters learned from the Chengdu government that the shigella food poisoning case that occurred at the Chongzhou City Experimental Primary School had been brought under control, and that 57 people had shigella-related food poisoning rather than the several hundred that had been rumored. However, in earlier media interviews concerning the rumors that there were several hundred cases, Chongzhou city officials covered up the facts, maintaining that only 47 people had taken ill, and did not disclose the cause.

This is not the first time that a coverup has been reported: after major mine disasters, some mine operators and local officials cover up the death statistics; after pollution spills into waterways, local governments conceal the facts; when students are poisoned, local officials are extremely guarded when talking to the media. For some time, the truth about public affairs that affect life in society becomes a ball of clay that can be moulded in the hands of local officials - it can be stretched and compressed, or changed in shape. Facing the oversight of their superiors and the media, it has become something of a habit for some local officials to lie. What drives them to commit these offenses?

From the perspective of power supervision, local officials may dare to obscure the truth for at least three reasons: first, the power supervision apparatus is incomplete, and local officials expect to be lucky enough to escape. When supervision is not thorough, then those who hold power can begin to take care of public affairs in line with their own desires, and this can bring an immense personal benefit to those in power. Second, there is not a large cost to covering up the facts, so local officials are spurred to act willfully. At times of risk, any person will calculate the possible risks and rewards, and those in power are no different. If punishment measures do not command enough fear, then officials will dare to act indiscriminately. Third, the will of senior officials still prevails in some regions, so the local oversight apparatus has no way to effectively infringe on the expansion of the power of these senior officials. This causes local officials to imagine that the power they wield is all-encompassing, and that they can use it to seal up information completely.

Of course, some local officials dismiss communication channels and public's right to know as being inadequately understood, and this is another reason why local governments dare to obscure the truth. However, in contrast to the supervision of power, these reasons occupy a secondary position. The history of the nation's development and theories of politics both demonstrate that when checks on power are more sound, the order of political and societal life is more stable. Since what those officials holding public power care about is their own official positions and the benefits they derive from them, wiping out habitual cover-ups by those in power needs only to fully strengthen power supervision so that those who cross over the line can no longer preserve their own positions - only in this way can this open infringement of the welfare of the nation and its citizens be kept in check. In any event, only when the cost far outstrips the benefits will local officials make the choice to control their thoughts of risk-taking.

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There are currently 4 Comments for Who's responsible for media cover-ups?.

Comments on Who's responsible for media cover-ups?

In answer to the China Times editorial headline, "since 1949."

Although China has also had plenty of purges that were the opposite of cover-ups, ousting people for which there was no negligence.

Thanks for this great artical. A recent accident in Nanjin where a boy was sucked into the pump of a swimming pool owned by Vanke, the largest property developer, was also covered up. The Company has paid media and lobbied the government to stop reporting of this tragedy and the parents were just in dire despair.

Here is some info.

Cover-ups exist in all political systems.

They are a human failing, not a communist / democratic / any-other-system failing.

Which is why any government that wants to be effective needs a free press. Without someone searching for them, cover-ups become trivial to implement, and governments begin to hide things _from parts of themselves_.

It's the corollary of why there aren't any vast conspiracies. Governments can't even make the trains run on time, and you're telling me they're capable of a huge, complex conspiracy!?!

You can't have selective group competence (of course you can have selective individual competence) and you can't fight the nature of systems.

So you have to _account_ for both.

A free press is an effective way to account for the latter -- and healthy (ie. more than two-party) democracy helps account for the former.

Would be interesting to hear more about how exactly CBN managed to strike such a sweet settlement. Seemed to coincide nicely with the return to Guangzhou of a team sent by the guv'nr to Foxconn to check things out, from what I understand.

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