As if being a reporter in China weren’t hard enough already, the government is planning to enforce more stringent requirements to ensure that journalists “learn socialist and Marxist theories of journalism and media ethics.” But even when you do become a reporter, the path is not an easy one. Getting comments or even information at all for stories can be difficult, as evidenced by this recording of a Hong Kong reporter trying to confirm Google’s retreat from China with Chinese government officials.
[Note: for obvious reasons, translating spoken speech is harder than translating something written. This is my first time attempting this sort of translation, and while I believe it reflects quite accurately the conversation as it was recorded, I have left a few small parts out and can’t be sure I haven’t made some mistakes.]
Reporter: May I ask, is this the State Council news bureau?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes.
Reporter: Oh, it’s like this, I’d like to ask whether Google is leaving the Chinese market or not.
S.C. Worker 1: Oh, this… […] we still don’t have that…we’re still not very clear on it.
S.C. Worker 1: So you’ll have to ask another department, this office hasn’t received any news.
Reporter: You haven’t recieved any news. But isn’t this the State Council news bureau?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes. But we have many offices.
Reporter: Oh. Then what office should I ask? What office is this?
S.C. Worker 1: This is the news office.
Reporter: The news office, yes?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes.
Reporter: And at the news office you haven’t heard anything relating to [this piece of news]?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh, this, perhaps it is not our office that is responsible for this [piece of news].
Reporter: In that case, what office is responsible for it?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh [long pause] it’s…the propaganda office.
Reporter: Oh, the propaganda office?
S.C. Worker 1: Yes, maybe it’s the propaganda office.
Reporter: But have you heard the news that Google is going to leave China?
S.C. Worker 1: I saw it on the internet, but this office isn’t responsible for it.
Reporter: OK, so can you tell me the phone number for the propaganda office?
S.C. Worker 1: You could send a memo over and I could pass it along to them, how’s that?
Reporter: Oh, that might not be convenient, could you just directly tell me the propaganda office’s number?
S.C. Worker 1: Uh…I don’t have it now, wait a minute, I will ask [pause] OK, call 65226165 and ask.
Reporter: 65226165, and what office is that?
S.C. Worker 1: It’s an office responsible for dealing with reporters
Reporter: Oh, OK. Thank you.
S.C. Worker 1: Bye bye.
[Reporter calls that number]
Reporter: Is this the State Council news bureau office responsible for dealing with questions from reporters?
S.C. Worker 2: Yes, who is this?
Reporter: It’s like this, we saw that Google is going to leave the Mainland and wanted to ask about this news.
S.C. Worker 2: That…is it convenient if…which media outlet are you from?
Reporter: I’m a reporter with Radio Free Asia.
S.C. Worker 2: Oh, why don’t you send a fax, OK, send it to 65226115.
S.C. Worker 2: Yes. Write your question on the fax, OK?
Reporter: Is this news real or not?
S.C. Worker 2: Uh, because I’m just the person who answers the phones, personally, I don’t have any way of responding to your question. We prefer to receive faxes.
Reporter: So do you have any information at all [about the news Google is leaving China]?
S.C. Worker 2: If you want to ask me this in detail, because I only answer the phones, I personally…you probably can understand, there are different jobs within an office. How about this, going by the normal system, you should send a fax to the number I just told you
Reporter: And then?
S.C. Worker 2: And write your question and your name and how to get in touch with you on the fax. Then on this end we will deal with it according to the system. We will get in touch with you.
Obviously, this kind of thing happens to reporters everywhere from time to time, but the fact that the government department responsible for dealing with reporters and news couldn’t answer a simple question is sort of concerning even when one doesn’t take into account their rather antiquated “system” of responding to questions (I would love to hear if this reporter ever heard back from them). Why, for that matter, is the person who answers the phones at the office for responding to requests from reporters not capable of answering a simple “is this true or not” question?