Debunking Bad Journalism in China Can Be Dangerous

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Chinese and international media outlets reported threats and violence against a journalist known for exposing fraud and errors in Chinese media coverage.(Credit: screen-shot detail from the China based, Global Times web site)

Exposing bad journalism in China can be dangerous, according to articles about journalists who have been physically attacked for exposing fraud in news reports.

Most recently, Fang Shimin, a Chinese freelance journalist who has been dubbed the “science cop,” was attacked.  Fang writes under the name Fang Zhouzi.

Fang was attacked right after being interviewed for television about “Li Yi, a popular Taoist master who claimed to have supernatural powers that were later found to have been faked. Li was investigated for allegedly raping a former student, though police say those charges are unfounded,” Time reported.

Time reported that the reporter, Fang, focuses on “exposing plagiarism, dodgy scientific claims and fraudulent résumés of prominent figures.”   As the journal Science reported, Fang’s work has led to “libel suits contesting his often-acerbic exposes.”

The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos detailed Fang Shimin’s attack here. As China’s Global Times reported, he was attacked with a “narcotic spray and hammer,” but he wasn’t severely injured.  Fang called it “a murder attempt” and he claims that he has been threatened since 2007.  “I think the hit men were hired by someone whose fraud had been exposed by me,” Time reported Fang said.

“The thing is, this time it’s not just a threat,” the Global Times reported Fang said. “This time they actually tried to kill me.”

Despite the attack, Fang Shimin isn’t discouraged and intends to continue his reporting, People Daily reported.

“I will not be frightened and will stick to what I have been doing,” Fang is quoted as saying.

The Chinese-born Fang Shimin got a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Michigan State University, where he started his blog New Threads.  He continued his blog after moving back to China in the late 1990s and changed his blog’s theme from literature and creative writing to “combat the trend [of ‘psuedo sciences and superstitions’] and promote science,” Time reported.

“In an ideal world, some more formal and organized watchdogs … professional organizations or a governmental agency would be in place,” he says. “But China does not have these, so individual watchdogs become essential,” Fang Shimin is quoted as saying.

The New Yorker reported that one of Fang Shimin’s latest fraud exposes targeted Tang Jun for having “a Ph.D. from a diploma mill called the Pacific Western University.”  The New Yorker identifies Tang as “the former head of Microsoft China,” and Time further noted that the Government Accountability Office labeled Pacific Western as a diploma mill.

However, Fang’s attack has been questioned. The Global Times reported Sept 13 that a doctor claims Fang Shimin’s attack was faked.

“I doubt the authenticity of the incident and I have collected plenty of evidence to quash his lie,” The Global Times reported that Dr Xiao Chuanguo, director of the Tongji Medical College in Huazhong University of Science & Technology, said.

According to the Global Times, Xiao intends to file a police report when he gets back to China.  Xiao is currently at a urology forum in South America.

“Convinced Fang is a fake fighter against fakery, Xiao theorized the incident was staged to promote Xiao’s new book and to draw police attention” to Fang Xuanchang’s attack, The Global Times  wrote.  Fang Shimin countered the claims of a fake attack, noting that he publishes books every year and that the claim is “ridiculous.”

“Rumors on the Internet call white black,” Fang Shimin is quoted as saying.

Press Freedom in China

As Time noted, China is considered unfriendly to the free press, reporting that China “leads the world in jailing journalists for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.”

Likewise, Reporters without Borders also labels China “the world’s biggest prison for journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents.”  Reporters without Borders goes on to rank China 168 out of 175 countries on its 2009 Press Freedom Index.  In 2010 alone, 30 journalists and 76 netizens are reported to have been imprisoned.

Also, Hu Jintao, China’s president, was listed on Reporters without Borders’ list of 40 freedom predators this May. “Even if he publicly professes support for press freedom, this conservative communist often restricts the freedom of the liberal press and dissidents,” Reporters without Borders wrote.

Connections between Fang Shimin and Fang Xuanchang

Fang isn’t the only journalist who has been attacked recently.  As Time reported, Caijing magazine editor Fang Xuanchang was assaulted on June 24, necessitating a trip to the hospital.  Time reports he “was struck repeatedly by two men wielding metal bars.”

As China’s Global Times reported, Fang Xuanchang and Fang Shimin worked together several years ago for a story. The story labeled “‘cancer-preventative’ medicine Tianxianye as a fraud.”

Fang Shimin said “it was apparent that I would be the next target,”after Fang Xuanchangs’ attack, Time reported.

But, People Daily reported that Fang Shimin didn’t think that he and Fang Xuangchang were attacked by the same person, even though Xuangchang’s attacker hasn’t been identified yet.

Christian Science Monitor reported that Fang Shimin’s lawyer believes the attack was because of Fang’s posting citing a study that questioned “a controversial operation on the nervous system to control urinary incontinence.”

The lawyer, Peng Jian, is reported to have said that “the attack was most likely ordered by a private hospital in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, which specializes” in that operation.

iMediaEthics has written to New Threads blog for comment and will update with any response.

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Debunking Bad Journalism in China Can Be Dangerous

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