CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (May 12, 2005) — The Nieman Foundation is withdrawing its role as a partner in a program to help inform Chinese officials about the needs of a free press covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation, said the controversy and continued misunderstanding of the original intentions had put the reputation of the Nieman Fellowship program at risk, and “it was necessary to act to protect our good name.”
The program may continue under other Harvard sponsorship. Professor Ezra Vogel, former director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research and the Harvard University Asia Center, and a key organizer of the event, said, “The training program is an opportunity for Westerners to provide the Chinese with an understanding of the values underlying the US press and how the press operates in our society. The program is in the interests of all those who wish to further opportunities for reporters to find and report what is happening in China.”
Giles said the Nieman Foundation agreed to become a co-sponsor of the program as part of its educational mission to elevate the standards of journalism.
The controversy began during a conversation between Giles and Nieman alumni at the conclusion of the Nieman reunion last Sunday. Many of the alumni in the meeting raised objections to the idea that the foundation would engage with officials from China, considering the country’s past record regarding the press.
“As I listened to the discussion last Sunday and considered the controversy, it was clear that the question was no longer whether to explain the original idea but rather the obligation to protect the Nieman name. I have been deeply touched by the passion and loyalty of Nieman Fellows in their love for this program,” he said. “Especially important to my thinking was a conversation with the current Nieman class, whose members expressed support for me even as they stated concerns about the China program.”
The Nieman Foundation is the oldest and best known mid-career fellowship program in journalism. Twenty-four Nieman Fellowships are awarded each year, 12 to international journalists and 12 to U.S. journalists.