June 10th, 2012 | Global Times Attacks against journalists harm quest for truth
On Thursday, in the Nanhai district of Foshan, Guangdong Province, the local industry and commerce department was met with collective violence from residents blocking officials from investigating an underground motorcycle garage.
“This place is under my control. I am the leader and you guys should get out of here!” A man claiming to be the village head smashed the windows of a reporter’s vehicle with bricks, then mustered dozens of villagers to push, besiege and intercept officials and journalists. A female journalist was injured by thrown stones during the attack.
Later this day, the “village head” surrendered to the police. The police charged the assailants with “hindering official duties.” Journalists were yet again beaten up in this case, but they were “lucky” because officials suffered the same fate. However, what if the journalists had gone to do interviews alone? Would the attackers still be charged for hindering official duties?
Fat chance. There have been plenty of physical attacks on journalists on recent years. But they’re rarely treated as criminal cases, let alone “hindrance of official duties.” Most of the time, after journalists are attacked, those cases were covered up and the assailants receive no punishment.
The cost of beating journalists is so low that perpetrators have virtually nothing to fear. That prompts them to become more aggressive, like the “village head” in this case. But in some sense, journalists doing interviews is a kind of public duty.
For instance, during a court hearing that involved Shanxi police trying to arrest a journalist from Beijing last year, the court ruled that the journalist can also be taken as a public servant. In this sense, their duties are also official ones. Journalists doing interviews and police doing investigations are fulfilling the same role, and attacking either of them equates to “hindering official duties.”
The frequency of attacks on journalists reminds us that the law must pay close attention to the legitimacy of journalists’ right to do interviews and the public’s right to know. When the judicial branch investigates the Foshan case, I sincerely hope that they include the attacks on journalists in the charges.
The Shenzhen government has introduced a rule outlawing behavior that undermines media supervision, and serious incidents of this nature will be harshly punished.
We should use this as a starting point and introduce criminal sanctions for those who attack journalists. They have to pay a price for their violence so that the conditions to protect the right of public supervision can be created.