When David Barboza, a correspondent for the New York Times in China, reported on the Wen Jiabao clan’s wealth, he did what a good reporter needs to do. Beijing seems to think otherwise. Now, Chris Buckley, one of Barboza’s NYT colleagues, has visa problems.
According to the Guardian, Buckley has reported from China for twelve years. Those who complain that most media send correspondents without great Chinese language skills to China should think again: does it make sense to send correspondents to China who invested heavily into their China-related skills? It may occasionally make sense, but not as a rule. And once a correspondent with a lot of “China background” gets tricked out of the country by “sensitive” authorities, a paper or broadcaster who wants to make sure that their coverage on China isn’t influenced by the CCP should provide such a correspondent with a follow-up stint in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Taiwan. There’s too little coverage from Taiwan anyway.
A correspondent won’t necessarily allow the CCP to intimidate him or her anyway. But it’s not only for the correspondents to make sure about that – it’s a task for their employers (i. e. the media), too.
In short: the media should do their share to make sure that their correspondents can’t be tacitly or openly blackmailed by the Chinese “authorities”.
Those who can’t put their correspondents into a sufficiently independent position shouldn’t have permanent correspondents in China at all – and they should state this publicly, to their readers. Quality assurance and building trust is the issue here.
It may be a double-edged sword for correspondents to speak out about the conditions under which they report from China. But their employers – and their readers – should encourage them to be transparent about the forms of harrassment they encounter.