Reporter Log

Getting tough what it's all about

By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2014-03-08 08:39

I signaled to her several times, raising my hand high and waving, but the woman responsible for calling on reporters kept refusing to acknowledge me.

Getting tough what it's all about

I wanted to ask the agricultural minister a question after his meandering statement about genetically modified crop safety in China. What he said had already been published.

"Minister Han, do you eat GM food yourself?"

I was, it turned out, the last person to get the microphone at Thursday's news conference.

My short question set the room abuzz. But I was calm. After all, I think it is a journalist's job to take chances to get the answer.

"You've asked a tough question, and I won't avoid it," Han Changfu said. "I eat food processed from GM raw materials."

Not surprisingly, the Q&A made headlines on news portals, setting off a fresh round of debate on the controversial issue, with video of the minister's response going viral online.

Friday morning, the Beijing News daily put the question on the front page, along with an editorial claiming that the "inroads" into top brass' personal affairs were meant to put decision-makers in the shoes of ordinary citizens.

For me, it was testament to the fact that what a reporter asks at a news conference can make a difference.

On most occasions, reporters need to "take a step back, look at the bigger picture" - in the words of fictional politician Francis Underwood on the Netflix series House of Cards - and ask questions on readers' behalf.

That was how I scooped a story from a news conference given by Wang Shiyuan, vice-minister of land and resources last December.

The official specified data on how the country's arable land area had been adjusted upward due to improved survey standards and mentioned that "a considerable amount" of arable fields had been polluted and that pollution in "some areas" was serious.

"Exactly how much contaminated farmland is there (in the whole country)?" I asked. "Is the tainted land still yielding crops?"

As a result, the media, as well as the public, got to hear for the first time from an official source about the full extent of farmland pollution in China: 3.33 million hectares, almost the size of Belgium, was polluted. Farming had been halted and would be rehabilitated to ensure food safety.

Related Reading:

Agriculture minister reaffirms safety of GM foods

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