Gossip Reporter's Death Haunts Chinese Media
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Gossip Reporter's Death Haunts Chinese Media


On a balmy spring day in the capital city of China, a China Radio International (CRI) employee had discovered a dead corpse lying beside the radio station's apartment complex. Yan Yinan, co-host of the gossip talk-radio program, China Drive, had died in an apparent suicide. It occurred on a Good Friday, which is three days before Christians celebrate Easter.

Suicides in the Asia-Pacific region are not rare, especially for people aged in their 20's and 30's, when some feel as if their personal lives and careers have reached a dead end. One could describe it as a mid-life crisis with fatal consequences.

Mrs. Yan could have felt overwhelmed by her lack of recognition in the Chinese media. She may have aspired to become a well-respected journalist, but instead she told gossip stories on a radio program with few listeners, probably 10 or fewer listeners. In such circumstances, one may feel like they're living a ghostly existence. You talk, but nobody listens.

Her apparent suicide would have gone unnoticed in the public eye until news of her untimely death leaked. However, the story, posted in a blog had sparked an outcry from some CRI colleagues, while other coworkers had expressed support for the reporter, who broke the story. Critics complained that Yan's death was a tragedy and should not have been made public, while others informed the UN Post that her suicide, though "tragic," had raised some suspicions, since CRI management has engaged in a "massive cover-up scheme."

In recent months, the UN Post has received numerous emails and phone calls from former and current CRI employees who wanted to speak about Yan, but cited anonymously. They described the behind-the-scenes confusion and occasions of "odd behavior" at CRI in the aftermath of Yan's alleged suicide.

For nearly a week after Yan died, CRI's news website or its radio programming did not mention her demise. It's as if she never existed as one of China's leading gossip reporters. But when a blog site disclosed her death, some CRI colleagues appeared visibly upset.

Management held a closed door meeting with all CRI English News Website and radio employees and threatened to fire anyone talking to the media. They refused to answer details about her death and everybody was forbidden to talk about Yan inside the building as well. Yet disputes erupted over the policy, so management compromised by offering to conduct a memorial service on its premises.

However, sources confirmed with the UN Post that even the memorial was handled in a "creepy" manner. They cited how a Canadian-born radio producer, who worked closely with Yan for two years (his initials are J.A.), was asked to give a speech to honor her memory, but he only said a few words.

When standing behind a podium he is quoted as saying, "I know Yan just died, but it's already in the past. It's time to move forward with our lives." He was observed as about to walk way, when his face turned crimson red. He added, "But the bigger problem is that there was a news leak of Yan's death."

J.A. stopped talking and left. He was not present for the rest of the memorial service along with other expat employees who were invited but did not attend as well. One expat moved to Australia a week after the memorial service without giving advance notice to management. He has not been seen in China since.

Some sources contacting the UN Post explained that this erratic behavior raised concerns amongst colleagues. They found it strange that some employees showed such apathy to the death of a "dear colleague," but could not control their emotions when reading related blog stories. It's as if they cared more about a "news leak" than with Yan's alleged suicide, even though she worked for the radio station for over nine years. A friend of Yan described her as the "older sister she had always wished for."

They would ask rhetorical questions to the UN Post such as: Why do they worry too much about a news leak? Are they hiding something? Is there a reason for the dark conspiracy to cover up Yan's death? Did Yan really commit suicide? Did somebody else harm her or threaten her that fateful day?

Sources noted that Yan never left a suicide note and if so they have not heard about it. None of her former coworkers recall seeing her depressed or hinting that she wanted to end her life. She never mentioned family problems or explained she was experiencing a mid-life crisis. They said she was proud of her job and never complained despite her low audience ratings.

Meanwhile, her job could have placed her safety at risk, since she was a co-host, along with Mark Griffith, of a Chinese gossip radio show, which was broadcast daily. She lived and worked full-time in Beijing and some have speculated that she had likely taken some secrets of high-level China Communist Party (CCP) officials to her grave.

To add further intrigue, she died around the same time when China's newly sworn President Xi Xinping announced a nationwide campaign to crack down on corruption. President Xi pledged to "root out corruption" and even high-level officials would not be "above suspicion."

At the time, rumors were swirling over questionable activities occurring at CRI. The radio station had captured few listeners and reliant upon government subsidies, since it generated little ad revenue. Sources explained that CRI would receive millions of dollars in subsidies annually, but could not show the money was spent wisely.

There was an internal joke that CRI workers knew when a subsidy arrived. Management would hire Chinese contractors and poorly-paid migrant laborers to re-decorate office space and replace potted plants. However, reporters and editors would not get any pay raises, increased job benefits or a travel budget to report on stories.

One source quipped, "it looks like CRI cares more about its potted plants than its employees."

Sources had also cited expenditures for CRI's so-called state-of-the-art Web TV studios. Millions of dollars in subsidy funding had built studios, which appeared to be using out-dated TV and audio equipment borrowed from a local TV station, while the table and chairs for interviews looked used as if they were purchased from a flea market. One person called the furniture, "a kiddie table with worn out chairs."

In more unsettling news, a former CRI employee claims to have uncovered an alleged 'global ghost radio network.' He spoke to the UN Post three years ago and said he found verifiable proof that CRI is running fake radio stations all over the world.

He explained that if you log on to the CRI English News Website, you can scroll to the bottom to click on a link that says, "Ways to Listen." You open a page that provides a directory of CRI Radio stations broadcast around the world. So let's say you see that Houston has CRI on the 1520 AM Dial. You try to tune in, but you either get dead air or a different station is broadcasting.

The source, whom we shall call Steven (not his real name), was a former sales and marketing rep for a number of stations in the United States before coming to China. He discovered CRI's ghost radio network by accident. He had just been hired to work for CRI and wanted to boost advertising for CRI affiliates based in the US.

He told the UN Post that he called up a CRI radio station based in Galveston and asked to speak to the sales team. However, a woman who answered the phone disclosed that the Galveston radio station continues to play Christian contemporary pop music and CRI signed legal documents to make it look like an affiliated radio station.

Steven was perplexed, but he wanted to verify before asking CRI management about its ghost radio stations. He called friends in the Galveston area and asked them to tune in. They called back to confirm. Steven also called folks in other CRI broadcasting cities and they too gave the same answer.

Steven was asked, "why would CRI go through so much trouble to create ghost radio stations? Do they worry about the Western World exposing the fraud?"

"CRI gets a subsidy for being a propaganda tool of the Chinese government. And if they can show CRI broadcasts CCP's message all over the world, that's a bigger subsidy for them," Steven said. "Just take a look at CRI's motto, it's 'Your Bridge to China and the World.' But spending money on the upkeep and broadcasting licenses for these radio stations can be expensive. It's cheaper to build a 'global ghost radio network.'"

He added, "CRI management does not worry about Westerners uncovering the scam. They purchase radio frequencies with low audience levels beforehand, and so it would be hard to notice. CRI only worries if CRI English News and radio programming captures more attention from the public. If CRI gets a bigger audience then some people living outside China might try to tune into CRI radio programming by clicking on the "Ways to Listen" page. They might tune on to a 'ghost station.'"

He explained that CRI's strategy in Beijing is to create a media outlet that appears legitimate but hires incompetent reporters and editors to ensure a small audience. That's how they get such a large "global propaganda subsidy from the Chinese government." And if any reporter or editor shows some talent or gains greater recognition from the public, they get fired or their contracts do not get renewed without explanation.

Steven did not receive a contract renewal after speaking to the UN Post three years ago.

Yet despite the alleged corruption scheme as claimed by Steven, it appears as if Yan Yinan's death had finally launched a wave of much-needed reforms. Sources speaking to the UN Post, who criticized CRI for engaging in a massive cover-up of Yan Yinan's death, have disclosed positive new developments in recent months.

Shortly after Yan's alleged suicide, a director of the CRI English News and Radio was transferred to the Spanish language department. Some have held him responsible for encouraging a culture of laziness and incompetence. He was replaced by a director, who pledged support for a drive to boost audience radio ratings and bring in more CRI English News Website readers.

She is quoted as telling CRI employees on her first day as director that, "it's time for some changes at CRI. We need to focus more on creating a bigger audience."

Although Yan's alleged suicide was tragic, she appears not to have died in vain. Her unexpected death had forced management to conduct some soul searching and transform CRI into a more legitimate media outlet that deserves respect. They are beginning to cast aside an atmosphere that was breeding apathy, immaturity and sloth, while welcoming a spirit of innovation, productivity and more honest reporting.

Yan may have only been a gossip reporter, but her legacy to inspire better journalism in China could live on for many years to come.

Tom McGregor

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