China Is Gleefully Reporting the Phone Hacking Scandal

Officials have instructed journalists to report the story freely

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The New Yorker's Evan Osnos made an interesting observation on Tuesday. In recent days, Chinese authorities have tightly controlled coverage of the country's embarrassing high-speed rail crash, directing news outlets to avoid investigating the causes of the accident and instead focus on heroic tales of kindness, like people donating blood and taxi drivers not accepting fares, according to the China Media Project. But Chinese censors have issued no such restrictions for coverage of the phone-hacking scandal involving Rupert Murduch's News of the World. In fact, they're actually prodding Chinese journalists to report the story as much as possible. On Weibo, China's microblogging service, Ji Ye of Phoenix television wrote that the phone-hacking scandal represents the "first time that we've received an advisory saying we can report more extensively."

To illustrate his point, Osnos notes that Chinese airwaves and newspapers have featured "round-the-clock coverage" in recent days of "News Corp. woe and Wendi Deng Murdoch's defense of her husband, Rupert, against a would-be shaving-cream-pie-thrower," including the in-depth account on the right of her "downward, open-palm swipe" from the Xuzhou City Morning News. Osnos speculates that Chinese state media are relishing the phone-hacking scandal as an opportunity to turn the tables on western reporters and politicians who often criticize China's lack of press freedom. The authorities, he adds, may also be trying to distract people's attention from the high-speed rail crash.

What exactly are Chinese news outlets saying about the Murdoch scandal? In an article on the "collapse of the western concept of news," the Guangming Daily writes that "Murdoch has showed us once again that the so-called independence and objectivity [of the Western press] is merely a fig leaf that the western world uses to fool its people." The South China Morning Post notes that Chinese commentators are accusing "western media of 'hypocrisy' and empty sloganeering about freedom and human rights" (China's Xinhua news agency quotes "Chinese netizens" as expressing similar sentiments, including one who wrote, "freedom without boundaries will just become the root for crime"). The state-run Global Times argues that if the phone-hacking scandal had happened in China, "Murdoch would have been portrayed as a hero by the foreign media for challenging the government." The state-run China Daily is really holding nothing back. Quoting an Asia Times Online article, the paper lets loose with this observation:

As China has endured lectures from the West about its press freedom and human rights for decadesthe no-holds-barredprofit-driven media of the West has set a daily example of irresponsibility and excess.

In a final blow, Xinhua quotes Fan Yijin, a former board chairman of the Nanfang Media Group, as saying Chinese media could learn from the West's media blunders. "As the media market is facing fiercer competition and more media groups are using new technology to expand their coverage, troubles are already emerging," Fan warned.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.