Monthly newsletter: June 2019

Hong Kong on June 4 just saw one of the largest crowds ever gather to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the massacre of pro-democracy students and protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. 

Attendance had started to drop off in recent years for the annual candlelight vigil. The massive turnout this time was no doubt helped by mounting public opposition to the Hong Kong government’s proposed new extradition bill, which would allow the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China, where the legal system is subservient to the ruling Communist Party.

The press—local and foreign—did a commendable job covering the weeks leading up to this year’s anniversary of the massacre. There were retrospectives, opinion pieces by Tiananmen survivors, previously unseen photographs andinterviews with eyewitnesses providing new details on what took place the night of June 3 and 4 in Beijing.

And of course, as usual, all of the reporting and even mere mentions of June 4 were heavily censored inside of China.

Some have asked why the press still continues to mark the events of 30 years ago with such intense coverage. How, they ask, is a tragic episode of three decades ago relevant to modern China today, with its booming economy and growing global clout.

My answer is simple: we continue to cover what happened on June 4, 1989, precisely because China’s government wants us to forget. As long as the current rulers—the same party in charge of the massacre—tries to cover up what happened, suppress the memory and refuses to make a true public reckoning, journalists have an obligation to keep that memory alive.

And precisely because the Chinese government has been so effective at trying to whitewash the memory of how its army slaughtered innocent people in Tiananmen Square, journalists—many, like me, who were around 30 years ago and remember—must make sure the official erasure never succeeds.

To me, that is simply what journalists do. I always recall the old adage: news is what someone else does not want you to print; everything else is just propaganda.

A NOTE: As we enter the scorching summer months, and with classes now over for the 2018-19 school year, this newsletter will take a short hiatus until September, when our new term begins. Then we will be welcoming back our returning undergraduates, and welcoming in a new cohort of freshmen and Master of Journalism students.

But we also want to take a moment to say goodbye to two long-time instructors who are moving on after a combined two decades with us. Kees Metselaar has been our photojournalism teacher for as long as most of us can remember, andNancy Tong has been a stalwart helming the documentary video production and documentary film appreciation classes. Please join me in wishing them a fond farewell.

Keith Richburg
Director of the JMSC