Academic journal article Asia Pacific Law Review

'Rule by Media' - the Role of Media in the Present Development of Rule of Law in Anti-Corruption Cases in Transitional China

Academic journal article Asia Pacific Law Review

'Rule by Media' - the Role of Media in the Present Development of Rule of Law in Anti-Corruption Cases in Transitional China

Article excerpt

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I. Introduction

China has become a major global economic power and its rapid growth has been accompanied by the evolution of its rule of law, albeit at a somewhat slower pace and with its unique 'Chinese characteristics'. One such characteristic is the media's active involvement in exposing government corruption at various levels. There appears to be an expectation that government or law enforcement authorities will act promptly, responsively or efficiently when the media exposes bureaucratic corruption or misconduct. To some extent, exposure of corruption by the mass media (generally controlled by the state), or internet-based media (accessed by the general public and state-owned agencies), has become an independent and effective means of law enforcement. The media is often capable of offering solutions to many social issues that law enforcement and government authorities seem to be unable to deal with. Active media involvement in day-to-day social and political life has become an interesting social phenomenon in the development of rule of law in China.

'Rule by media' is a translation of the Chinese words '...or meizhi', reportedly first used in CCTV's (China Central Television) 'News 1+1' on 13 April 2010.1 On this programme, the famous media personality, Mr Bai Yansong, said: 'What is rule by media? It means to be ruled by media, because as soon as an event is reported by the media, there is a prompt response. From rule by man to rule by media is progress; but, there is still a long way to go from rule by media to rule of law.'2 This provocative opinion caused a great deal of controversy in China, and attracted both praise and criticism. The expression 'rule by media' does to some extent reflect the reality of political and social life in China today. Leaving aside philosophical questions regarding the justification, rationale, correctness and legitimacy of the term, this paper acknowledges the importance and contributions of Chinese media in the development of the rule of law in China, particularly in anti-corruption cases. For the purposes of our discussion, the author first examines the controversy surrounding the use of the term 'rule by media', and then reviews a number of important anti-corruption cases exposed by the media. Following this is a discussion of the main theoretical and practical aspects of 'rule by media' in China today, and an analysis of the role of the media in the development of specifically, Chinese rule of law. The author concludes by summarising the main points and views discussed in the paper.

II. Controversy Caused by 'Rule by Media'

'Rule by media' as defined by Mr Bai in April 2010 is far from theoretical. It refers to scenarios where government authorities have quickly responded, or an issue was resolved promptly, once a specific event becomes the focus of the media's attention, in particular the national media, suggesting that it is as if the political and social organisations of China are 'ruled' or controlled by the media. The programme aired on 13 April 2010 reported a number of stories. One concerned an enduring complaint made by six retired professors concerning the alleged academic misconduct of a Chang Jiang Scholar at their university.3 The Chang Jiang Scholarship is a special academic honour awarded by the Chinese Ministry of Education to academics who have made significant contributions to academic research.4 It was reported that the six retired professors continually made complaints against this scholar for two years, but the university had taken no action.5 However, as soon as the event was reported by 'Topics in Focus', a popular national TV programme, the university acted promptly, revoking the scholar's title and removing him from his academic position.6 In a similar case which concerned the treatment of patients in a local hospital with industrial grade oxygen, those responsible were also punished quickly after exposed by the national media, even though the local authority had decided through its administrative action some time before that misconduct had occurred but had taken no action. …

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