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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Torts, Governments and Freedom of the Press

Everything is relative in the world of injuries and torts. In the US, defendants and plaintiffs jockey back and forth, and lobby for state and federal changes in laws and/or members of the judiciary. But, we do not have outright government censorship or reporters being blocked from investigating. Not so, it appears, in China, when it comes to reporting on defective vaccines. Reports came out in China last year on perhaps 100 children dying from improper vaccines administered in one particular program. Now, reports say that the reporting journalists are facing government crackdowns and are being assigned to non-investigative work. The current story is set out below.

"One of China’s leading newspapers has shut down its respected investigative unit, an editor said Tuesday, an apparent victim of a broad clampdown on political dissent and the media.

The sudden move has sparked concern about the future of watchdog journalism in China, which has gained strength in recent years despite a ruling Communist Party censorship system aimed at ensuring favourable media coverage for the government.

Xie Baokang, assistant to the editor-in-chief at the China Economic Times newspaper, told AFP the publication’s investigative team — led by veteran muckracker Wang Keqin — had been "dismantled."

"The correspondents haven’t left, they still work at the newspaper, but in different departments," he said, refusing to comment on the reasons behind the move.

The China Economic Times is published by an institution that comes under the central government but has still managed to push political boundaries, becoming one of the nation’s leading watchdog publications.

Wang’s report last year on children who fell seriously ill after being given allegedly faulty vaccines in the northern province of Shanxi made waves around the country.

Soon after that story, the paper’s editor-in-chief Bao Yueyang — a keen supporter of Wang — was sacked.

The Chinese government strictly censors the country’s newspapers, broadcast media and the Internet, blocking any information it deems a threat to its authority.

Controls have been further tightened by a heavy clampdown on dissent amid official fears that recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa could spark similar movements in China.

Scores of prominent rights lawyers and activists have been detained in the campaign.

David Bandurski, the Hong Kong-based co-author of a book on investigative journalism in China, said the newspaper’s move was a worrying development.

"Wang is the pre-eminent investigative reporter in China, he’s symbolic of the whole movement going back to the mid to late 1990s," he said.

"So what happens with this team will reflect on the overall environment for investigative reporting," he said.

Wang — who just recently offered a positive assessment of the growth in watchdog journalism on his blog — could not be reached by phone, and did not immediately respond to emails sent by AFP."

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