Nongfu Spring challenges media’s supervisory role
Published: Nov 05, 2013 12:03 AM
Zhejiang-based Nongfu Spring, one of China's largest drinking water producers, said on its official Sina Weibo account on Sunday that it filed a complaint with the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television in Beijing, against the Beijing Times newspaper for "multiple fake reports and month-long planned opinion violence" against the company.

This complaint came within a few days after another newspaper, the Guangdong-based New Express, issued an apology over the alleged defamation of a State-owned firm by one of its reporters through a series of stories that had claimed to expose graft. The row was seen as a victory for the company over the media when the reporter involved was officially arrested recently.

On China's microblogging sites, most users seemed to side with Nongfu Spring and demanded an investigation into what they perceived as the "unethical" behavior of the Beijing Times.

In Western nations, the media are often referred to as the "fourth estate" because their roles involve monitoring behavior of political figures to ensure that power isn't abused. Additionally, the media take on social responsibilities. They have done so in China as well.

In the business world, the media also play the important role of supervising conduct of companies and protecting the rights of consumers.

In 2008, the Chinese media for instance, reported that a baby formula product had been contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine which caused several deaths and widespread illnesses. The scandal prompted responses from both domestic food makers and regulatory authorities.

The media not only condemned the unethical behavior of companies, but also called for compensation and justice for the victims. The media's highlighting of the episode also raised public awareness on food safety.

But recent years have been disappointing with an increase in cases of media houses or reporters blackmailing enterprises by threatening negative exposure.

Due to the immense impact of the media, it has become increasingly urgent that the media should also be subjected to scrutiny.

The boundaries of press freedom have been debated worldwide and the limits of that freedom have been tested too, but the defining redline should be not to publish for commercial gain or sensational effect.

An unprofessional era is upon us. We lack professional media as well as professional enterprises. But we want them to just not be professional but also resolve disputes through legal means.

If conflicts end through persuasive methods, we will see public confidence - in both our media and companies - growing back.

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