Understanding Chinese news media through Foxconn

Checking facts?
The Foxconn - China Business News affair is over, but interesting information about it continues to be revealed.

To summarize the story: In June this year, China Business News (第一财经日报) published a story alledging sweat shop conditions at a factory managed by Taiwanese giant Foxconn. The factory assembles iPods for Apple.

Soon after that, Foxconn sued the responsible journalist and her editor. Foxconn used the Shenzhen Intermediate Court to freeze the personal assets of the journalists.

Journalists and bloggers mounted a loosely organized Internet campaign against Foxconn. Sina, which has become China's most influential portal and news site, opened blogs for the editor and journalist.

But then it turned out that the research for the story was done in a very unprofessional way: the journalist basically combined comments from online forums like Xici with interviews with Foxconn employees done by QQ (instant messaging software).

In the end, both Foxconn and China Business News realized that further publicity would only hurt both of them. They settled and agreed to forgive each other.

Now ESWN has translated an article by Southern Weekend reporter Fu Jianfeng that he posted on his blog (link). It contains some juicy little anecdotes about the state of the news media and of the legal system in China today. For example, in the wake of the Foxconn case, a businessman in Shenzhen tried to sue two reporters from the Hong Kong Commercial Press. The man tried to use exactly the same methods as Foxconn.

Fu Jianfeng met the young judge who was responsible for this new case:

On Monday, I went to see Judge Yin in person. She is a pretty young woman, with curly hair and big eyes. At first, she said that the court will not let this matter be discussed. But I saw that she was a recent university graduate and she was inexperienced and unwary. So I began chatting with her and she eventually told me about the hilarious conversation the other day. Even she had to giggle non-stop.

So I continued to ask her: "Why are you people so careful about this case?" She replied a little cunningly: "Do you need me to explain? You must know it too." I asked again: "Is this nuisance of a citizen Du Chunlian giving your leaders a headache?" She was silly enough to reply in a delightful way: "They have such headaches! The leaders have been discussing this for several days without being able to decide." I continued to ask: "Why?" She replied: "You think about it. How can we establish a precedent for asking huge amounts of compensation from reporters? But if we don't let others sue as well, we must think of a logically consistent rationale."

The article goes on to examine the extremely amateurish fact gathering techniques behind the original Foxconn report, and looks at what this case means for the Chinese media:

Why were the Chinese media not sober? I think that there are several factors:

First, the FoxConn method of litigation was particularly vile. If they succeeded with this, all reporters would live in fear of litigation about their reporting. This was a challenge to the entire field of journalism in China as well as the freedom of press. Therefore, the reaction of the field of journalism contains an instinct of self-preservation. FoxConn had used a similar method to prosecute Commercial Times reporter Joyce Kuang in Taiwan, but they retreated under pressure from the Journalist Association. From thereon, very few reporters in Taiwan dared to report on Hon Hai and even fewer dare to criticize Hon Hai. Therefore, the Journalist Association leader in Taiwan believed the joint assault by the Chinese media against FoxConn has a positive meaning.

Secondly, the media will hype up the news to attract eyeballs, and they are just as irrational as the capitalists. For example, many newspaper chief editors and so-called scholars quoted the supreme laws partially to say that the law does not permit corporations to sue reporters. But the interpretation of the supreme laws is that the corporation can sue the reporter or the unit as it wishes, but it cannot sue both the reporters and the unit in the same lawsuit. Thus, if FoxConn were to sever the case down into three separate cases, it can sue the two reporters and the unit. Although suing reporters is contrary to commonsense and practice, this is permitted under our laws. These media people decided to misrepresent the articles of law, and their mentality deserves to be scrutinized.

Thirdly, exaggerating a report can bring harm and the practice of journalism lack professionalism as well as minimum fairness. The information to reveal that Wang You's report lacked supporting evidence was there right in front of the eyes, but the media which were making one-sided attacks on FoxConn either did not see it or pretended that they did not see it and never mentioned a single word. What ever happened to the so-called fairness of reporting by the media?

Fourthly, FoxConn is a sub-contracting enterprise and it does not need to advertise in mainland media. Therefore, no Chinese media had any direct linkage in interests, and they can afford to hit FoxConn hard. But, let us imagine that if FoxConn were China Mobile or a certain large real estate corporation or a large automobile manufacturer, then what happens? It is possible that the majority of media will shut up due to their advertising interests. Therefore, I very much pessimistically observe that the pursuit of truth and social justice is just a façade in the pursuit of commercial interests in the practice of journalism. As soon as commercial interests are threatened, the façade is torn away. The Chinese media is swaying between power and money, so how shall we maintain the responsibility and conscience that the media ought to have? I am unable to provide an answer.

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There are currently 1 Comments for Understanding Chinese news media through Foxconn.

Comments on Understanding Chinese news media through Foxconn

A very good post on ESWN. When this story first broke, I noted on Danwei that the real issue was not sweatshops or feeedom of the press (hmmm) but the piss poor standard of the initial investigative report.

I am glad now that more attention is being put on the fact that this great expose of Foxconn came from a journalist whose sole source was an anonymous QQ poster and that the story was ran with little or no verification of the source. Let me say that again - a major media publishing a huge story supported only by questionable conversations on an Internet forum.

This should have been the focus of the earlier debate, not the law suit or the rather unsavory Chinese media defence of CBN. It is good that SW still has reporters of integrity.

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