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Society & Culture

Why China is Restraining Journalists

Mar 13, 2011

My blood ran cold when I read about how China is tracking and detaining foreign journalists. (The New York Times, “China Tracks Foreign Journalists,” March 6).

Back in May and June of 1989, I was in Beijing as an American correspondent for BusinessWeek, and I can clearly recall the emotions. I felt exhilaration when Chinese people opened up and spoke their minds freely, even to strangers in the street–and then I felt fear after the army killed hundreds and left the streets pockmarked with bullet holes and twisted metal.

But today, no longer a journalist, I can see the situation in China with a wider lens. Journalists in the thick of reporting don’t see the role that their reporting plays–or they see it and glorify it. By definition, news thrives on what is new and different; so news reporters have a bias toward action and change, particularly action that looks dramatic on video. From a journalist’s perspective, a revolution with street protests is always better than quiet change behind the scenes.

What is better from a journalist’s perspective is not necessarily better for the majority of people of the country involved.

Dori Jones Yang is the author of Daughter of Xanadu.

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