Friday, June 29, 2007

News: Chinese Thomas Train Factory Threatens and Holds Reporter

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about a journalist who visited the factory that made the red and yellow toys subject to the great Thomas Lead Paint Recall of 2007. It makes for a very interesting look into the Chinese power struggle. Here we are often led to believe that an oppressive government in China controls everything and can enforce unreasonable rules whimsically. This article points instead to corporate interests intimidating the police and holding reporters hostage. (In the states business has that much power too, but they use the political process rather than overt intimidation). The article is a great read. Here's an excerpt:
As an American journalist based in China, I knew there was a good chance
that at some point I’d be detained for pursuing a story. I just never thought
I’d be held hostage by a toy factory.

That’s what happened last Monday, when for nine hours I was held, along
with a translator and a photographer, by the suppliers of the popular Thomas
& Friends toy rail sets.

...Factory bosses, I would discover, can overrule the police, and
Chinese government officials are not as powerful as you might suspect in a
country addicted to foreign investment.

I shouldn't have been surprised by the reception. The last time I
arrived at a factory under suspicion for selling contaminated goods
(toothpaste), they quickly locked the gate and ran. A month earlier, I walked
into the headquarters of a company that sold tainted pet food to the United
States, and the receptionist insisted the owner was not in. When my translator
called the owner, we heard his cellphone ring in the adjoining room. I peeked in
and saw the boss scamper out the backdoor.

For American journalists, there’s a tradition of showing up at a crime
scene, or visiting a place that has made news. But in China, where press
freedoms are weak, such visits can be dangerous.

Last year, a young man working for a Chinese newspaper was beaten to
death after he tried to meet the owners of an illegal coal mine. Local officials
later insisted he was trying to extort money.

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