By Cong B. Corrales
TRUTH-TELLING has always been at the core of journalism and “the power of truth is more powerful than anything else.”
Thus said Hu Shuli, 2014 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, as she opened the 2014 Magsaysay Festival Month Lecture-Dialogues with her presentation “Caixin Media: Promoting Transparency and Accountability through Investigative Journalism” at the University of the Philippines Asian Center on Monday.
The lecture-dialogue was sponsored by the Ramon Magsaysay Transformative Leadership Institute in partnership with UP Asian Center, the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).
“It the spirit of the team which has brought me here,” she said.
“I became a journalist and wrote stories about fraudulent transactions of state-owned companies and challenged unwise policies through solid investigation, standards and skills, perspective and vision, and fair presentation,” she said.
After her two fellowships in the US—in 1986 and 1994—Hu decided to return to China. One of her professors at Stanford University, Lyle Nelson, discourage her decision saying: “Shuli, I respect your decision to go back to China. But it would be very hard for you. Chinese Journalism will never be part of mainstream international journalism.”
In 1998, Hu set up a finance and business magazine called Caijing, applying the highest standard to cover stories in China’s historical transition through transparent, objective, and reliable stories. Also in the 90s, China had no “real open media” and the finance industry was at its infancy.
Hu said that although journalists are not paid well in China, there is a “strong demand for the truth,” which is why Hu along and members of her team resigned from the company they worked for in 2009 and formed the Caixin Media.
“We want to be trusted. We worked hard with our lawyers to protect our brand,” said Hu adding that now that they own their media outlet they have enjoyed freedom in covering stories that matter. She also said they hold this freedom carefully by being responsible in their reportage.
It was because of this conditions in China that Hu’s team said they could not afford to commit mistakes in their investigative reports. She said that they have to be “200% sure” not only of their sources but also of the documents they gather for any given report.
It was also by this time, Hu said, that the business sector in China wanted transparent, objective, and reliable news. She added that this “thirst for the truth” rippled through China’s middle-class.
“Revealing the truth to the public requires layers of checking and multiple source verification. Good journalism can safeguard interests and foster changes of rules.”
She said that it was not only their credibility and reputation that is at stake but also “our hard-earned right to report.”
Hu said the missions of a journalist are to be critical thinkers, promote rational discussion, and do solid investigation.
In the dialogue portion of the program, a panel of reactors joined Hu on the center stage. These were Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Prof. Randy David and PCIJ’s Ed Lingao.
De Jesus pointed out the importance of what Hu said about not making any mistakes in news reports and that in the Philippine context this responsibility has been taken lightly most of the time.
“Let’s not waste press freedom by careless reporting,” she said.
David said that even with China having a “over-regulation on its affairs,” it would still need a feedback mechanism and this would be journalism.
“Without feedback you cannot identify blind spots in your system. (Societies will be) unable to observe itself,” said David adding that he did not expect that uncompromising investigative journalism will come from China.
Lingao, on the other hand, echoed the views of Hu that in doing investigative journalism “courage alone is not enough.” However, he also said that responsibility in reporting should not be imposed by governments. He added that the Caixin experience reminds us of the dangers the community journalists have to go through in covering news stories where they have to “tip-toe around powerful political dynasties and local warlords.”
Hu replied that media outlets should be responsible for their reporters.
“Outlets should ensure the safety of their reporters. As editor, we worry about our reporters. I buy insurance for my reporters,” Hu said.
She reiterated that it is “more dangerous to keep a story from being published.”