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LI You| Hong Kong Baptist University
“For any democracy to thrive, its media must act as watchdog – holding leaders accountable for their words and deeds. And, yes, take a bite if they fail to deliver,” Michael J. Jordan, a U.S. foreign correspondent wrote in one piece of his news article titled” The Toothless Watchdog: Why Election Coverage Matters.”Michael J. Jordan is teaching journalism class in Hong Kong Baptist Universtiy,
Photo by LI You
But it is hard to imagine that just several years ago, he was famous for his dispassionate writing style in reporting international news in some “terrible” issues, such as rapes or orphanages.
He works for 20 years as a U.S. foreign correspondent, reporting from 30 different countries.
Being dispassionate, which means stay away from opinion in news article, has become a part of his career criteria.
But his experience in the tiny African kingdom of Lesotho where he described, “democracy has prevailed – and a criminal cover-up continues”, was his turning point in his career.
Journalist’s mission, on one hand, is to better inform and educate people, on the other hand, is to raise awareness, he said.
Jordan worked as a foreign correspondent in four continents: North America, Europe, and Africa, now in Asia. Before residing in China since August 2015, Jordan lived for three years in Lesotho.
Lesotho is a mountainous landlocked country in Africa, but also a country suffering the world’s second-highest rate of HIV infection, at 23 percent. Michael J. Jordan's notebook, Photo by LI You
People live in huts built by themselves and suffer from the deadly disease silently. Clinics are hard to reach, especially in some remote mountains. HIV-infected women carry babies on their back.
Despite the hardship of the people, the country is putting limits on international development assistance, and is reluctant to tackle the real issues that plague ordinary people, according to his news article.
What makes the situation even worse is that a handful of government officials were accused of corruption; and the patience of the international community is wearing thin.
Therefore, in hope of making a difference, he devoted much of his time there writing about the extreme situations, the corruption of the government and also worked as a Health Journalism Trainer and Health Communications Consultant.
At first few months in Lesotho, he was a neutral journalist, and tried to be dispassionate. But then he was seeing what was really happening. He saw the injustice around him, and how deep the corruption really was.
“I became angry as a human being,” he said, ”one of our journalists’ missions is to give voice to the voiceless and to empower the powerless.”
Then he decided to write about opinion pieces so as to raise the awareness outside Lesotho what’s going on. He started exploring all the root causes of the violence, such as corruption and military.
But then, he was publicly accused of lying after interviewing a top government leader and he was forced to apologize.
He denied and decided to fight back by writing about how he was being intimidated during that time and then he became more active afterward.
“The mountain kingdom needs a robust, confident media to cover events without fear or favor,” he wrote in that “revenge article”.
But things get complicated afterward, his wife, working for a major international organization in Lesotho at that time, was accused of providing him news information. And they had three children at that time.
At the same time, there were more and more friends of him warning him about his safety and also his kids while the security people in his living place were not armed.
Like many journalists in Lesotho, they had to think about their own safety and the survival of their family.
“Someone in the mid of the night just spread bullets to their (journalists’) home” he said, “No one is going to protect journalists.”
And he became worried about his children, as he was then no longer a single man but a woman’s husband and three children’s father. So he followed his wife, left Lesotho and arrived in Beijing finally.
He is now living in Beijing and teaching in Renmin University and doing some training in international journalism in Hong Kong Baptist University.
Most recently, he also produced a storytelling-and-photo project on the plight of HIV Orphans and Vulnerable Children -- which will soon be published as a book and tried to finish his stories collected in Lesotho.Michael J. Jordan's notebook inside, Photo by LI You
“Lesotho and China are two very very different situations…in Lesotho, I actually felt professional, but also even ethnical and moral obligation, the duty, to speak up… in China, there are thousands of foreign journalists, there is plenty of critical journalism,” he said.
He is now planning to find some meaningful topics to work on and caring about Beijing’s air pollution and planed to write a story about it.
“It would be easy, now just within Beijing, to blame the government for the pollution and look into the reality how dangerous the pollution is, but that’s not fair,” he said.
He has seen many seemingly unfair phenomena during his career as a foreign correspondent: the babies did nothing wrong but born to have HIV; the Filipinos have to work in Hong Kong as helps to raise other people’s babies instead of their own; the bigger sister cleaning toilets to pay for her brother’s wedding…
“I can see how fortunate I am, and then I see all the unfairness and injustice and I have certain obligation to give the voice to the voiceless,” he said.