Food safety and reporters

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-16 07:54
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At a sideline forum about food additives during the National Food Safety Publicity Week initiated on Monday, the official in charge under the Ministry of Health said that journalists whose inaccurate or distorted reporting of food safety problems mislead the public might be blacklisted.

The current food safety publicity week is meant to raise the general public's awareness about food safety so they will be clear-headed enough to avoid eating contaminated food or being misled by distorted reporting.

True, inaccurate or even distorted reporting of a particular event related to food safety may cause public panic or cause economic losses to the producer of a particular food or food-related products. Yet, the question remains whether it is necessary or legitimate to blacklist journalists.

If a journalist can be confirmed to have intentionally fabricated a report or deliberately distorted the facts, which then results in public panic or economic losses to a particular enterprise, the reporter concerned should be punished according to the law. There is no need to blacklist them.

To be frank, journalists have made a greater contribution to efforts to improve food safety and expose food scandals, such as melamine-contaminated milk and banned substances added to various foods, than the safety watchdogs that are supposed to oversee the nation's food chain.

A report of a study about investigative reporters by researchers from Hong Kong City University and Fudan University found that although there may be a few reporters who deliberately exaggerate their reports, the majority of investigative reporters are serious about their job and believe what they are doing is conducive to the well being of both the society and country.

Instead of pointing the finger at the minority of irresponsible journalists who produce inaccurate or distorted reporting, we should be protecting the majority of investigative reporters who have been sparing no efforts to probe and uncover illegal activities including the manufacturing of unsafe food.

When a great deal more still needs to be done to make watchdogs such as food safety testers, industrial and commercial administrative officers and food inspection and quarantine officers an effective mechanism to stop unsafe food from entering the market, reporters and even ordinary residents should be encouraged to report on any unsafe food activities they discover.

The National Food Safety Publicity Week is expected to be an annual activity, according to Food Safety Office of the State Council, but if it is truly meant to promote food safety, the role of reporters in probing food scandals should be highlighted in the campaign so they will get the support they are entitled to in their work.

(China Daily 06/16/2011 page8)