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Powerless Media=Powerless Citizens, Says China Youth Daily Editorial

Tapping into widespread public frustration with corruption among government officials, advocates of press freedom in China seem to have found an effective tool with which to ally citizens to the journalistic cause. In a July 3 editorial published in the China Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League, columnist Cao Lin makes an impassioned case for protecting journalists from intimidation or harassment. Riding on the waves of online public furor surrounding two recent cases in which reporters were suppressed for exposing official wrongdoing, Cao argues that a powerless media results in a powerless citizenry and a powerless nation. Cao writes:

Only when journalists are strong will corrupt officials be in a weak position and only then will they succumb to the strength of public opinion. Only then will they not strike back at journalists, saying “so what if I take this bit of money, why don’t you go expose an official who has taken even more money?” Only when journalists are strong will public power be tamed and used for public benefit and not personal gain. Only when journalists are strong will the ugly societal phenomena be exposed, rather than be covered up until they get out of hand. Only when journalists are strong can the citizenry know the facts and the country be safe …

This is far from the first time Cao has lashed out against official corruption. As a young columnist at the China Youth Daily, Cao has written numerous pieces criticizing state media coverage of government wrongdoing. In early June, he spoke out against a controversial article published in the Global Times that called for Chinese citizens to be more accepting of government corruption, accusing the Global Times editor Hu Xijin of distorting the message of the editorial with a misleading headline. More recently, Cao penned an editorial calling out the viral CCTV-produced food documentary “A Bite of China” for white-washing China’s innumerable food safety scandals.

Some have wondered whether Cao might be speaking for a larger intra-party faction, given the fact that the newspaper for which he writes, the China Youth Daily, is the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League, the traditional power base of President Hu Jintao which is seen, by some, to be vaguely reformist and liberal. Cao’s editorials have been retroactively censored before, yet this does not seem to have dampened his critical stance.

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Amy Qin is currently working as a researcher and freelance journalist for the Beijing bureau of The New York Times. Her writing may be found on the Times’ China blog, Sinosphere.

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