Hu Jianlong – Journalism in Asia Today
What is your day-to-day task at your publication/organisation?
I am a Chinese national based in Bangalore, India. While preparing to launch my tech media start-up, I write columns with both Chinese and English media outlets. You can say that I am transitioning from a full-time journalist to a media manager.
My daily morning routine begins with reading the newspapers – mainly business news due to my interest in start-ups. It also allows me to chase stories and also enrich my awareness of India. It the afternoons I write or meet people.
What is the greatest challenge in journalism today in this region?
In China, it is ruled by an authoritarian regime with little or no freedom of speech. However, the level of openness that media organisations enjoy vary greatly during different periods in history. This depends on the
It is safe to say that journalism in China is facing the toughest time since reforms and the opening-up policy in 1978. Many feel suffocated from the current political atmosphere – as the leadership’s (ie: Xi Jinping) intolerance towards the media also reaches a new high since 1978.
How important is journalism in Asia?
As compared to other continents, Asia has more developing nations. That would mean corruption, lesser rule of law and also more social injustice. With this context, therefore journalism plays a significant role. At the same time it is more challenging because we face a more unruly and brutal government, as well as vested interest groups. Even outsiders view the mainstream media in China as a propaganda tool. Nevertheless, our investigative journalists have done an impressive job of giving voice to the less privileged. For the latter, the media may be the only way they can find justice.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt from another journalist in Asia?
P. Sainath from India remains an inspiring figure. Reporting in rural areas for decades, he gives highlights their concerns. In most Asian countries, peasants are one of the largest groups – yet with little voice – that belong to a lower economic class. And we can hardly find their stories on the front page.
His insistence in covering poverty in rural area for decades is admirable. At the same time, Sainath’s reflection on the power structures within newsrooms is thought-provoking. As I have worked in the industry, we do not realise our own problems. We easily bow down to political or business pressure, and are selectively blind to real public issues. Sainath said our newsrooms need reform, if not, revolution – a farsighted statement I feel.
What do you think is the most important issue/story in your country/region?
China is undergoing an unprecedented transition. The nation is stuck in many issues such as environmental pollution, media control and inequality. The most pivotal: corruption. While China is sometimes labelled as a communist country, I believe it is more of a crony-capitalistic one. And the system lacks proper checks and balances. The media will have to play the important role of a watchdog over undue political power and influential capitalist forces.
What are you most optimistic about as a journalist in Asia?
Again, I can only speak of China. I remain ambivalent about the future of journalism there. Firstly, even as journalists face the most difficult time due to unprecedented control from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), communication technologies has improved transparency and the way journalists work. Citizens have greater access to news, local and overseas.
Even though Facebook, Twitter and Google are blocked in China, the public’s desire for information mean they find innovative ways to access them still – for example, using VPN or a similar software. My confidence that China becomes more open rests on the fact that the regime’s capacity to control information flows is not fast enough to overcome the developing pace of communicative technologies like the internet. And this has little to do with traditional journalism.
What does it mean to be a journalist in Asia, as compared to the rest of the world?
There is no such thing. All journalists (Asian or Latin ones) share the same mission of covering stories objectively. We need to prioritise certain issues over others in our newsrooms. Personally, Asian journalists face a greater challenge in reporting this region due to rising geopolitical tensions. At the same time, nationalistic sentiment has risen rapidly in countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Japan. And yes, we still depend on western media on make sense of these changes in Asia. We should change the status quo.
Jianlong Hu (China) has worked as an investigative reporter based in Beijing with the Southern Weekly newspaper, Caijing Magazine and Southern Daily. Currently, he runs a pan-Asia tech media startup in Bangalore, India. He was selected for the 2016 Asia Journalism Fellowship in Singapore, with support from Temasek Foundation International.
Journalism in Asia is a collection of portraits and interviews from influential journalists in Asia presented every Monday morning.