Bloomberg’s China problem/China’s Bloomberg problem

11/13/2013 9:30 PM

11/13/2013 9:32 PM

The New York Times had a disturbing story several days ago that reported that Bloomberg News was killing a couple of investigative stories about China.

Here is an excerpt from the Times story, which described a call between Matthew Winkler, the editor of Bloomberg News, and several of his reporters in Hong Kong:

The investigative report they had been working on for the better part of a year, which detailed the hidden financial ties between one of the wealthiest men in China and the families of top Chinese leaders, would not be published.

In the call late last month, Mr. Winkler defended his decision, comparing it to the self-censorship by foreign news bureaus trying to preserve their ability to report inside Nazi-era Germany, according to Bloomberg employees familiar with the discussion.

“He said, ‘If we run the story, we’ll be kicked out of China,’ ” one of the employees said. Less than a week later, a second article, about the children of senior Chinese officials employed by foreign banks, was also declared dead, employees said.

Now, I was very interested in this story. The N&O pays a good chunk of change to get news and information from Bloomberg. I do not want to worry if the news service is self-censoring in order to keep its reporters in China.

But the larger problem is not Bloomberg’s. It is China’s.

China’s biggest challenge is to keep its economy growing to provide jobs and a rising standard of living for its people. But China is plagued by corruption and self-dealing in its government and business elite. Its environmental problems are well-known. Professionals and entrepreneurs are leaving.

China needs more, not less, scrutiny of inefficient state-controlled industries, of crooked bureaucrats on the take. Of massive land grabs. Of well-connected princelings being hired by Western companies that want to do business in China.

Without transparency, China’s economy may falter under the weight of corruption and mismanagement. And prospective investors in China and Chinese companies need transparency. They need to know that the economic data that they are getting from official sources is not cooked, and that companies are disclosing accurate earnings reports.

They rely on news organizations such as Bloomberg to give them comprehensive reporting from China. When they hear that Bloomberg may be pulling its punches, that does not inspire confidence in either Bloomberg or China.

I don’t know the truth of what happened inside Bloomberg with these China stories. Winkler insists that the stories have not been killed.

Well, one thing is for sure. The stories will either publish or not, and then we’ll know.

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