Fake Reporters and Smear Tactics

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Following on from Bill Powell’s post below about the fake People’s Daily editor, it is well worth noting that while there are undoubtedly many con artists like this around, branding someone a fake or extortionist pretending to be a reporter is a well worn tactic used by the local authorities when they wish to rid themselves of pesky journalists. It is a very successful tactic precisely because there are so many fakers out there. Even in cases where it seem very clear that the local authorities framed someone to stop them investigating corruption, for example, there is always a lingering doubt. Take for example Yang Xiaoqing, a reporter for the China Industrial Economy News, a Communist Youth League newspaper. He was sentenced to prison for a year last June for extortion in an obscure town in Hunan Province. Yang had written stories alleging that the local country Party chief in his hometown had embezzled millions of dollars through underselling state companies to local businessmen. He also alleged that the official helped divert tens of millions of dollars of central government money intended for poverty alleviation. Local authorities accused him of corruption and he was arrested on orders of the party official in Hunan capital of Changsha in January 2006. He was tried and convicted of blackmail in the country capital where the judges serve at the pleasure and under the orders of the party chief. As a testament to the influence his stories had on the ground, several hundred workers from one of the factories he wrote about demonstrated in Yang’s support at his first trial. Seemingly a pretty clear case. But as this analysis by Roland Soong demonstrates, it is all too easy to pile on the questions until considerable doubts have been raised.

If anything though, the coda to the story should put doubts to rest. Yang appealed his sentence and on October 29, the Hunan Shaoyang Intermediate People’s Court found that Yang was guilty of blackmail but that the crime was not serious (罪行轻) and released him. Yang’s wife –who campaigned for his freedom– told my colleague Nicole Qu that they would appeal that judgment, too. “Yes, he was released, but he was still convicted of blackmail. That was ridiculous. We insist he is innocent and will appeal the case.” Meanwhile, Yang is back working on his old newspaper, so at least this story has a happy ending.