<HTML><HEAD> <META name=GENERATOR content="MSHTML 8.00.6001.19019"></HEAD> <BODY> <H1 class="cN-headingPage prepend-5 span-11 last">Media watch not easy in a land of black-outs </H1> <DIV class="push-0 span-11 last"><!-- cT-storyDetails --> <DIV class="cT-storyDetails cfix"><CITE> <DIV><A title="John Garnaut" href="http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/by/John-Garnaut"><IMG alt=john-garnaut_127x127 src="ctsjohn-garnaut_127x127-90x90.jpg" width=90 height=90></A> <H3><A title="John Garnaut" href="http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/by/John-Garnaut">John Garnaut</A></H3></DIV></CITE></DIV> <DIV class="cT-storyDetails cfix"><CITE>June 21, 2011</CITE> </DIV> <DIV class="cT-storyDetails cfix"> <UL></UL></DIV> <DIV id=googleAds class="ad adSpot-textBox"></DIV><BOD> <DIV class=articleBody> <P>China's State Grid, the world's largest buyer of copper, has been busily investing in all manner of upstream, downstream and seemingly conflicting ventures in which it has no experience or expertise.</P> <P>These expensive gambles on wind, biomass and hydro power, high-tech research units and machinery production plants are on top of the 2.55 trillion yuan ($375 billion) it plans to spend on power lines over the next five years.</P> <P>Dozens of former employees and consultants are particularly upset at how the head of State Grid, Liu Zhenya, has silenced internal debate to push through an ultra-high-voltage transmission network.</P> <P>Most recently, the state-owned monopolist has been criticised for gaming the system and causing the electricity black-outs that have crimped industrial production across the country.</P> <P>All this rumbling disquiet, in a nation where state-owned companies are usually protected from bad press, has surfaced since March last year when a journalist, Wang Qiang, published a 20,000 character expose of China's corporate Frankenstein.</P> <P>"In a relatively well-developed market-based economic system, monopolies are periodically reined in," Wang wrote, in his <EM>Business Watch</EM> article, ''The State Grid Empire''.</P> <P>"At present, China lacks such constraining mechanisms. The true horror of State Grid lies not in the fact that it is a monopoly, but in the initiative demonstrated by this great empire, in its great capacity, in the awesome ambition that is hard-wired throughout its corporate self, in the massive monopoly profits that it has already realised and its limitless potential profits. Once given life, this organism will never be brought under control."</P> <P>In a world without transparency, democratic accountability or judicial independence, Wang's article would seem to be an example of the kind of media supervision the Chinese bureaucracy knows is needed to prevent its own putrefaction.</P> <P>"The Chinese government protects journalists' rights to report, criticise and supervise," Li Dongdong, the vice minister of the General Administration of Press &amp; Publication, told me in a recent interview. "We will guarantee such rights."</P> <P>The public interest in guaranteeing journalistic freedom, however, can be overridden by interests more narrowly defined.</P> <P>Wang Qiang's article won him the respect of his peers who gave him China's top investigative journalism award for 2010.</P> <P>But Li, the GAPP vice-minister who is directly responsible for licensing, reviewing and punishing China's 12,000 newspapers and magazines, has other views.</P> <P>"Media criticism and supervision must be based on facts," Li told me, explaining why she suspended <EM>Business Watch's </EM>publishing licence. The wounded magazine re-opened its doors, but only briefly, and it now hopes to be reincarnated as an academic journal.</P> <P>Quality journalism is not exactly encouraged in China but nor is it completely crushed. For every quality journalist who is intimidated, sacked or even jailed, there seems to be a dozen prepared to take their place. They have lost battles, but not the war.</P> <P>In April, <EM>Century Weekly</EM> published a cover story criticising the economics of the ultra-high voltage grid. In May the <EM>Beijing Times </EM>said China's power shortages were caused by the State Grid gouging profits from generators and that the company was burning through its monopoly rents as "internal fees".</P> <P>Last week the <EM>Beijing News</EM> published an unprecedented four-page review of the problems of unrestrained state-owned enterprises, including a provincial State Grid office that handed 300 company cars to its senior cadres and built a luxury compound to house them.</P> <P>Liu Zhenya appears to be in political trouble and yet, last month, two of his Shandong patrons, China's security chief Zhou Yongkang and his deputy Wang Lequan, made time to show support for Liu and his high-voltage investment plans.</P> <P>Journalist Wang Qiang has been bruised but not yet vanquished. "Let's humbly shoulder the price," Wang wrote on his blog, when his magazine was closed. "Today, we still are on the road, no matter how twisted it is, we are still walking!"</P></DIV></BOD></DIV></BODY></HTML>