Tan Yijie is doing more than giving her newspaper a good half-hour read. Beginning yesterday, the 17-year-old will report any problems or factual mistakes in her newspaper to the provincial association of journalists.
“I hope that our local media will get better and better,” said Tan, a senior high school student in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan province. Dailies, as well as news in the form of short text messages, are her major sources of information.
In a program arranged by Yunnan’s publicity department, 100 citizens aged from 17 to 66 in Kunming and other Yunnan cities are acting as “voluntary media supervisors,” responsible for overseeing the province’s 10 newspapers.
Yunnan’s publicity department, the chief regulator of newspapers and the other publications, in late October caused a stir countrywide when its director announced that the department would pick 100 “voluntary media supervisors” from the citizens to step up oversight on the media, targeting flaws such as paid coverage, fake news, indecent reports and bad advertisements.
But the department’s move raised fears that it will place new controls on the media from the public.
“The publicity department does not want to bind the hands and legs of the media too much,” Wu Hao, 39, the department’s deputy chief, said on Monday during an online press conference. “The ‘voluntary media supervisors’ will contribute to the media industry’s self-regulation.”
The association of journalists in Yunnan will hear the complaints from the volunteer supervisors, according to Wang Linzheng, deputy secretary-general of the industry association, who also attended the press conference.
The media supervisors consist of citizens from all walks of life – 34 employees, 25 students, 13 pensioners, five managers, five school teachers, four engineers, a professor, an army officer, a lawyer, a judge, a policeman, a nurse, a researcher, an official, a person who is self-employed, a person who is unemployed and four who did not give their identities.
A small blue certificate with a miniature Chinese national emblem on the cover authorized them to watch the local papers for one year.
They can also complain if the media overlooks hot topics and sensitive events of public interest, according to Wu.
But the supervisors are banned from directly interfering with journalists’ reporting or accusing the media in public, added Wang. They are only allowed to express their opinions through the association of journalists.
“I don’t think I am threatened,” said Song Jinyan, a reporter of a tabloid in Kunming.
Some supervisors are aware of the boundary of their power, and will take a careful approach.
“I will be prudent before I will file a complaint about a particular paper,” said Zhang Ruikun, 25, a postgraduate journalism student in Kunming.