LJ: I don't think environment journalists have separate problems. When you have information about a story and a good article, you will face danger.
NS: You have said that "As a journalist, my job should be focused on writing a good report. But half of my effort is spent on considering how to get a story past the censors and the likelihood of punishment." How has this experience been for you? What is the effect of censorship on environmental reporting?
LJ: Yes! I said this because if you want to be a journalist who wants to write what is told to you, your article will be published. If you want to write something meaningful or uncover the damage China's development is causing you have to face censorship.
When I published my Three Gorges Dam article in 2004, I found the Three Gorges Dam Company lied to public for many years. It did not tell the truth about the project or the promised compensation to the displaced residents. They found the article bad for the image of the company and called me warning that "If you publish the article you will be the enemy of the State." I turned off my mobile phone.
When I went ahead with publishing my story on the Tiger Leaping Gorge Dam, my editor warned me about the content of the story. I did sense the pressure he was under to stop me from revealing this information to the public. The final blow was when Wall Street Journal did a story about me and my investigative reporting. I was fired from my job!
That's the censorship. I have to think whether a sentence may be sensitive, and I would probably have to use a soft approach. For me, the main goal is to publish it because maybe it will make a difference. I know I might offend some groups, which is common, but I would have made others happy.
NS: How do people in China respond to your stories?
LJ: When I published the story on the Tiger Leaping Gorge Dams project, it was an illegal project. The day after I published my article, one friend called Premier Wen Jiabao's office asking him to read this story. Later on I was told by an officer at the office that Premier has read the story and has ordered the project to be suspended pending a central government investigation.
The local people who would be affected by the project were not given all details about resettlement. They made hundreds of copies of my articles and sent them to fellow farmers who were not aware and two years later more than 10,000 local people protested against this project. The local officials lied to the people saying no such project was planned. The affected people then showed copies of my article to the local government and said: "Don't lie to us any more. We have the evidence!" I think I can help the people and government by providing them with real information. If the government has real information it does respond.