I’ve seen this look before. Lecturing to journalism students, I get on my high horse about the watchdog role of a journalist: to hold the authorities accountable for their words and deeds.
“If they’re spending taxpayer money,” I preach, “you have a right to explore how exactly they’re spending it, and why exactly they’re spending it the way they’re spending it.”
Yet this sermon is not always greeted with “Amen!” I’ve spoken with young journalists from harsh dictatorships – say, Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan – where I spot an eye roll, or feel a rise in temperature. Because for them, this “democratic”-style journalism is an appealing but unattainable ideal. Asking such tough questions back home may land them in prison, or worse.
I’m now getting some of the same looks here, from mainland-Chinese students. Those who’ve had internships have already tasted censorship – editors explain which lines can’t be crossed, like criticizing the authorities, or third-rail subjects like Tibet or Xinjiang, with its restive Uighur minority.
I’m fortunate to also have a handful of Burmese, Cambodian and Vietnamese students in class, and one of the Burmese articulately noted the time isn’t right for such journalism under his country’s military regime – but he’ll wait patiently.
What these aspiring journalists believe can and can’t be done is a topic I look forward to exploring throughout the semester.