Citizen journalism emerges when “the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, and offer relevant commentaries on socio-political, economic issues of the day”. Ma Huaqing, with no professional background or training in journalism, has independently furthered his passion in the media as a freelance journalist. His reports have aired on television stations in China, and Al Jazeera English – cognisant of his experiences – has approached him for his perspectives on China-related issues. Huaqing shares his assortment of endeavours from the past few years, and expresses some of his dreams and aspirations in the near future.
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Tell us more about the BBC apology. What happened during the incident, and how did it conclude?
I was very excited about the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. However, during its coverage of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Torch Relay in London on April 6, 2008, James Reynolds, BBC’s Beijing correspondent, filed a report headlined “China silent on Olympic troubles”. According to Reynolds, “China is making efforts to ensure scenes of protests on the Olympic torch relay are kept from public view.” The report also accused the Chinese government of adopting a so-called “ostrich strategy”, of burying their heads in the sand over the matter.
In his TV news report, Reynolds was standing at a road junction in Beijing, and a giant screen behind him was showing a simulcast of China Central Television’s 7pm News Bulletin, Xinwen Lianbo. There was a brief mention of the torch relay in London but the protests were not mentioned. However, I realised that the torch relay actually commenced at 10:30am (London Time) on that day, or 6:30pm (Beijing Time). The protests would obviously have taken place some time after the commencement of the torch relay. The daily broadcast of Xinwen Lianbo‘s remained unchanged, starting at 7pm sharp.
Unlike the BBC which did a LIVE telecast of the torch relay, it was virtually impossible for CCTV’s London correspondent to send the footage back to the headquarters in Beijing for editing and broadcasting in less than 30 minutes. Besides, most media outlets in China did report the story the next day. Yet, Reynolds stationed himself at the road junction – eagerly waiting for the Xinwen Lianbo broadcast to commence at 7pm – but chose to turn a blind eye to the important facts, and carried on demonising China with his fabricated report. He had undoubtedly violated the professional ethics of journalists.
I made videos in protest of BBC’s biased coverage and uploaded them onto YouTube and other video sharing sites in China, thus stirring much discussion from netizens. The BBC was under fire for its fabricated coverage. The editor of BBC News, Jon Williams, apologized on April 28, 2008.
I prefer to look at issues from the unconventional angle. There is no need to repeat the conventional views which are already carried by the mass media. What my audience want to hear, I believe, is something unique and original.
I prefer to highlight the incompetency of local authorities in China. For instance, I have pointed out many erroneous English translations in public places, and was interviewed a few times by the media. Repeated occurrences of such errors reflect inefficiencies and the lack of professionalism of local authorities, and would certainly damage a city’s reputation. Someone must speak up and remind them to do their job.
I also like to highlight the struggles of disadvantaged people in the society. In late 2008, I met a lady in Chengdu, China whose daughter was raped and killed by her ex-boyfriend in Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. The murderer was given a death sentence at first, but after his family had bribed corrupted officials, he was released from jail. To seek justice for her daughter, she came to Chengdu and protested against the legal organs. Sometimes she would be beaten up by the security guards, and on other occasions officials from the Provincial High Court would visit her to persuade her to keep quiet by offering her a sum of 30,000 RMB. But she did not give up her cause.
Armed with a compact digital camera, I filmed a 40-minute footage in which she described her events in detail. None of the local media dared to cover her story, so I helped to send the footage to a producer from the Public Television Service in Taiwan, who was kind enough to put it up on their YouTube channel.
It is my first ever English TV news report on the 2012 Singapore Army Open House. It aired on International Channel Shanghai on May 28, 2012. There is also a Mandarin report on the same event, aired on Chengdu TV Station Channel 5 on the same day.
Many TV viewers in China are very curious about Singapore. Chengdu TV Station Channel 5, for instance, has approached me many times for the coverage of events such as the Singapore Airshow and the Army Open House. I am happy to present Singapore to TV viewers in China in the comfort of their living rooms.
As a citizen journalist, I can be the voice for disadvantaged groups in the society, many of whom are often silenced. I can also report on issues that are usually not covered by traditional media due to their sensitive nature. This is especially so in China.
The increased accessibility of the Internet allows information to be disseminated very quickly to a large audience. As a result, it is much harder nowadays, and prohibitively expensive for authorities to control what netizens say online. Authorities can no longer afford to be complacent, as they are subject to much greater supervision by netizens. Any hotly debated issue online can put authorities under enormous pressure, and force them to change for the better.
I look up to Mr. Zola Zhou in particular. He is a citizen journalist from Hunan Province, China who has done a great job by helping many to set up websites to protest, and is very courageous despite being under constant pressure from local authorities. He has even shared with me useful tips on how to protect myself from physical violence when covering a sensitive story.
Yes, definitely. I have been offered a place in the National University of Singapore, and am planning to major in Communications and the New Media. I am also planning to work as a TV journalist and subsequently become a China correspondent, producer or news anchor upon graduation.