BY: NOELANI MONTERO
LIU Brooklyn’s Kumble Theater was filled to capacity for the annual Polk Awards Seminar on April 10.
Titled “A Revolution Betrayed: Covering Corruption and Human Rights in China,” the seminar hosted 2012 Polk Award recipients Holly Williams, David Barboza, and Wenxin Fan—these journalists were honored for exposing critical information and insight on injustices in China.
Moderated by Polk Awards curator John Darnton, the panelists were asked questions that led deeper into their respective investigations and experiences.
Holly Williams of CBS News won a Polk Award for Television News Reporting. Williams journeyed to the village of Chen Guangcheng, an activist who escaped the country after years being under house arrest. After many setbacks, she was able to speak to the family members Guangcheng left behind. Because of her quick thinking and fluent knowledge of the Mandarin language, Williams was able to deliver this award-winning report.
During the seminar Williams described Guangcheng as a “barefoot lawyer” who advocates for rights often involving claims of violence and forced abortions. She also noted the first time she met Guangcheng and his wife—in a Starbucks in Beijing. “[Guangcheng] escaped. He had people watching him in his home from the local government,” Williams said.
David Barboza and Wenxin Fan each won a Polk Award for Foreign Reporting. Barboza, a New York Times writer, earned the Polk with his three part article series “The Pricelings.” The articles uncovered the financial interests of Chinese officials and their families.
“People know about it, but not in large detail. I realized, why is no one writing this?” said Barboza in response to a question of whether the general population in China is aware of inequalities occurring regarding wealthy families.
Fan, along with Bloomberg News staff, won their Polk Award for the article series “China Betrayed,” which exposed the inequalities of China’s ruling class. The extreme wealth of Chongqing leader Bo Xilai was also investigated.
During the seminar Fan showed two diagrams that embodied the relations between China’s richest and most powerful families. He also showed percentages of how much of China’s overall funds were distributed amongst these families and much it differed from the wealth of the typical Chinese family.
“We did what Bloomberg does. It’s about numbers,” Fan said. “This is one of the biggest [issues] in China right now; it’s a story about an issue of money and power.”
Both Fan and Barboza noted the importance and the usefulness of public documents in their investigations. However, Fan noted how it was difficult determining “who’s who,” because many of the families covered have existed for many generations.
Darnton asked the journalists about some of the challenges they faced both covering and executing their stories.
“I think they tried their best efforts to stop us from publishing it,” said Fan on uncovering the powerful families’ secrets.
Barboza added: “It was clear that there would be grave consequences if this article came out.”
Despite the dangers involved with writing these investigative articles, the three panelists remained steadfast and reported on the corruption in China in order to bring this looming issue to light.