China’s unruly journalists book published by political science professor

Alex Cory

Some people just can’t be silenced, and in China, it’s making a difference.

Jonathan Hassid, assistant professor of political science, recently published a book titled “China’s Unruly Journalists: How Committed Professionals are Changing the People’s Republic.”

The book examines the state of journalism in China and how journalists push the boundaries of censorship by challenging the government.

“Really, Chinese journalists can get away with a lot if they’re careful about it,” Hassid said.

The book addresses how the corruption in Chinese journalism, where practices like bribery are the norm, have affected the profession. Hassid said journalists can push the boundaries of what the government allows in the media by slowly pushing issues forward.

He added that in Chinese journalism, most of the censorship comes from an unlikely source.

“Most censorship decisions are made by journalists and editors themselves,” Hassid said. “They’ll get in trouble if they go too far, but it does allow leeway for the more bolder journalists to push forward.

“They’re trying to push the boundaries, but not step over them.”

Hassid said the Chinese journalists he spoke to referred to this as “edge ball,” a ping-pong term for when the ball is pushed to the end of the table.

Hassid gave the example of the Sun Zhigang incident, in which a migrant worker died because of the physical abuse he suffered while detained in China’s custody and reparation system in 2003. The event sparked public outrage and eventually caused the abolition of the system by the national government.

Punishments for publishing a story the Communist Party doesn’t approve of include being fired, being barred from the field and even imprisonment. China currently has the largest number of imprisoned journalists.

Hassid was surprised by the general corruption he found in Chinese news media. He said every press conference in China offers “car fare” for journalists who show up, basically paying for them to attend the event. Journalists will often times go to press conferences, accept the money and just publish the press release.

Hassid said when coal mine disasters happen, people don’t go to report on the disaster. They go to collect the bribe.

Hassid said a colleague of a journalist he interviewed attempted to blackmail the ice cream company Haagen-Dazs and report about the company negatively if it didn’t pay him off. When it didn’t accept the bribe, the colleague broke into the factory and spread dirt everywhere and took pictures, hoping to return to Haagen-Dazs and receive a bribe. He ended up getting fired.

Hassid said things in China are now worse for journalists than when he started writing his book because of the new president’s crackdown.

“I know that censorship is a huge problem in China and that they have an incredibly [controlled] media,” said Michael Aksamit, junior in forestry. “You don’t really hear about the journalists who are doing good things, so it’s cool we have a professor who wrote a book about that.”

Hassid’s book is part of the Routledge Contemporary China Series and is available on Amazon or as an e-book on Kindle.