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Media changes message for anxious China

Date

John Garnaut Beijing

THENew York Times expose on the riches amassed by the family of Premier Wen Jiabao shows how foreign media could now play a ''transformational'' role in Chinese politics and policymaking, says a new report.

But it is too early to tell whether such reports will be embraced, repressed or simply become pawns in elite politicking, says the Conference Board, a respected global non-profit group that compiles data and advises top multinational companies.

Last week the Times cited Chinese corporate records that documented how Mr Wen's mother, wife and son had amassed assets totalling $US2.7 billion.

It followed a report by Bloomberg in June on the extended family of president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, which uncovered assets worth more than a billion dollars.

Both TheNew York Times and Bloomberg websites were immediately blocked in China, and remain so.

''We are entering a new era of insight into the inner workings of China's business system, the Party, and its leaders,'' says the report, The Fourth Estate and China's Reform Agenda.

''While all agree that China's top-tier political processes remain among the most opaque in the world, the level of media exposure to which top-tier behaviour is now exposed is unprecedented,'' it said.

''It is the dual forces of gangly, uncontrollable domestic social media and investigative global media that are taking the lead role.''

Within China the October 26 expose of Mr Wen's family wealth has been seen as part of a political conspiracy to undermine him or his platform for political reform, weeks from a fraught leadership transition on November 15.

''Why was this trouble brought just before the 18th Party Congress?'' the son of a former vice-premier, who has no particular allegiance to Mr Wen or his colleagues, asked this week. ''Is it an attempt to impact Chinese politics and create instability? And why is it Wen Jiabao - when there are so many who are corrupt in China?''

Times journalist David Barboza has held public internet forums to dispel conspiracy theories, explaining how he had begun looking at elite families a year ago and that it was the Wen family that generated the most leads. ''Why now? Because it took that long to gather and evaluate the evidence,'' Barboza said.

Roland Soong wrote on his EastSouthWestNorth blog that the Times had achieved the ''unimaginable'' result of uniting overseas dissidents and mainland party mouthpieces in talk of conspiracy.

The People's Daily ran a report slamming the Times for its history of ''faking'' and ''distorting'' news. The People's Daily report itself, however, turned out to be plagiarised.

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