Zhou Zhichen, president of the Yunnan-based City Times, yesterday posted an emotional Weibo comment: "As a media person, I have never felt so angry and ashamed."
Why is Zhou so agitated? Some people disclosed on the Internet that the City Times had published an article related to the director of the Fujian Communication Department Li Dejin, exposing his luxurious lifestyle. The article says that Li wears a watch worth 50,000 yuan ($7,930) and a belt worth 13,000 yuan.
However, City Times was requested to cancel the article and reprint the page. Netizens who disclosed this incident also posted a photo of the article in question.
Details of this incident are still unclear, and officials have not responded to it.
The media should be respected, even if some of the reports are out of line.
Newspapers can be asked to delete articles, but there should be sufficient grounds to do so. The authorities also have to reach a consensus with that newspaper.
Also, officials should respond to public doubts in a timely manner. A wall of silence will only lead to more suspicion.
Chinese media outlets are constantly frustrated by interference from special interest groups, sometimes even powerful individuals.
The more influential the outlet is, the more interventions it may suffer. This has put traditional media in a disadvantageous position compared to online media.
This problem has led to a serious brain drain from traditional media. Understaffed media outlets are finding it more difficult to produce quality investigative reporting, which could be one of the reasons for more intervention from the target. This is a vicious cycle.
If the report concerning Li is true, the extreme measure of being forced to reprint should not be allowed to happen by any means.
Even if it contains a few inaccuracies, given the powerful influence of online public opinion, the effects can be controlled and remedied through statements or apologies.
The easy decision to cancel an issue of a newspaper shows how media outlets are disrespected by people who hold power.
They underestimate the consequences of decisions like this.
This is no longer a time when information can be blocked or erased. Those who attempt to do so will only find themselves in more trouble.
Respecting the media should be the motto of those who hold public power. Trying to manipulate the media will incur a high price.
At the same time, the media has to seriously play the role of social watchdog. This is where they can earn their position of influence.