After 1,000 days in Chinese prison for being a journalist Ching Cheong was finally released. Too bad hardly anyone reading American news outlets know anything about this. (Yes, there are stories from AP and other wires, but at best the story got two grafs buried in the “World Round Up” column on page 10. And forget any broadcast mention.)
When the reporter was grabbed by the Chinese security forces the SPJ jumped into the fray and joined with journalism groups to protest the seizure. (It could hardly be called an arrest because for the first several months no charges were levied. In fact, under pressure from the security police Ching’s family was told that to keep quiet about his detention.)
Only after Ching’s detention was made public were actual charges levied. A farce of a trial followed with an outcome consistent with a dictatorship that seeks to crush free media.
I was in Hong Kong when Ching’s arrest was made public. I never knew him but people whom I respect and count as friends told me enough to know that Ching was no “agent for a foreign power.” He is a journalist who was proud of his Chinese heritage and one who wants to see only the best for the land of his ancestors.
The pro-Beijing forces in Hong Kong and the Communist Party machinery tried to portray Ching as a spy who hated China. Nothing, from what I could get from his freinds, family, co-workers and even casual acquaintences could back up that description.
Maybe the Chinese government projects its own belief of the role of a journalist to journalists from around other countries. Therefore it has to view anyone who asks questions and pokes around to be nothing but a spy for a foreign power.
I think it is important for Western journalists (and proto-isolationist Americans in particular) to understand just how the dictatorships of the world think. They — like all other societies — project their way of doing things to others. Therefore, independent journalists from the democracies are seen as spies.
Journalists develop sources, ask questions and exposure the problems of society.
Spies develop sources, ask questions and look for weaknesses in society.
Dictators have little understanding of the role of free and independent media in society. They want to control everything and so anyone asking questions is either a dissident or a spy.
I bet there are even some Americans who think we are out to destroy American society because we ask questions and point out the problems in our own society.
Granted, stories about jailed journalists in China is hardly news. China holds the record for the number of journalists jailed or detained. (Cuba is #2, just in case you were wondering. That should tell you something about certain forms of government.)
And granted there are a lot more pressing issues to cover about China. (Although we seem to mostly get these stories through the filter of trade imbalance or the upcoming Olympics.)
How a government treats reporters is a good window into how that governemnt treats its own people. Arbitrary jailings are not limited to reporters in countries where such things happen. Contempt for independent media often reflects contempt for the populace. A tendency to prevent journalists from getting information through secrecy laws and intimdation also reflects a government’s lack of transparency with its own people.
We see each day — at least those of us who look — how the independent journalists of Hong Kong are fighting to protect the freedoms guaranteed under the treaty that handed Hong Kong back to China. We also see how many journalists in China are regularly pushing the envelope of what they can report.
The combination of opening to the world and the Internet have provided opportunities for mainland Chinese journalists to spread their wings. And they are deserving of our support.
Just as Ching Cheong received the support of the global journalism community during his detention and imprisonment, so should the Chinese journalists who are beaten by government thugs, fired or jailed for wanting to report on pollution or government corruption.