Thanks everyone for the incredible outpouring of sympathy and support. It has really helped me and my family get through this.
— Mike Forsythe 傅才德 (@PekingMike) November 18, 2013
Some disturbing news is leaking out from a surprise firing of a Bloomberg News journalist. The reporter, Mike Forsythe, is a well respected expert on China whose suspension and subsequent permanent removal appears to have been related to threats made by the Chinese government to kick out Bloomberg News from the country if certain stories were published. The stories appear to have been about corruption in the Chinese Communist Party and government they control.
This year, Forsythe and Oster completed work on a fresh investigation into the connection of wealth and power in China, this time focusing on Wang Jianlin, a real-estate developer and the country’s richest citizen. In September, Bloomberg News Managing Editor Jonathan Kaufman told the reporters that the story was “terrific” and added “I am in awe of the way you tracked down and deciphered the financial holdings and the players. It’s a real revelation. Looking forward to pushing it up the line.”
So far so good.
But the next month, progress on the story suddenly came to a halt. The reporters learned from an editor that the story would indefinitely be “put on the back burner” for an indefinite amount of time. In a report by Edward Wong of The New York Times, Winkler told the reporters that publishing the report would jeopardize Bloomberg’s access to China, and compared their situation to Nazi-era Germany, where journalists engaged in self-censorship in order to avoid expulsion from the country.
Later reports by the Times would reveal that Bloomberg News editors “insert a code” that ensures a controversial story on the Chinese government “does not appear on mainland-China Bloomberg terminals.” Clearly an act of self-censorship that sets a business first tone.
Forsythe was subsequently suspended and eventually canned. In all probability due to his involvement with a damaging story on a high ranking member of the Communist Party of China and the country’s richest man – two facts not all together unrelated apparently.
So where does this leave journalism in China? Chinese domestic reporters are completely cowed by the CPC who can fine and imprison them (if not worse) and now foreign reporters working for large news organizations are being censored by their own management. There seems to be no real check on the exercise of power by the one-party state nor any way for citizens of China to get the real story on what is going on in their country.
In the 90s, when China was being assisted in entering the World Trade Organization, the PR campaign hatched by the Clinton Administration was that free trade would lead to a liberalization of China’s politics as well as its economy. Basically, that opening up their markets to US investment would make them more like us. It seems, after some reflection, we are becoming more like them – a great country ruled by a small kleptocratic elite that spies on its own population and censors the truth.