OPINION> Chen Weihua
Speak up against wrongdoers
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-12-13 08:07

In my city of Shanghai, I have often wondered why most people seem to be part of the silent majority when confronted with audio/visual pollution caused by ubiquitous liquid crystal display (LCD) panels in apartments, offices and supermarkets.

I have been waiting for years for a public outburst or someone to take legal action.

That someone has finally shown up. But it was in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, where I have been traveling these days.

A lawyer, Hu Yongping, on behalf of his clients at Hualing mansion, only a few blocks from my hotel, has taken the Changsha branch of the Shanghai-based Focus Media to court, charging the NASDAQ-listed firm of violating property rights.

A few days ago, a group of legal professionals and journalists gathered in Changsha to voice their support for the plaintiffs.

The news, which made headlines this week, should have come as an eye-opener to people in Shanghai. It should have made them ashamed of their silence, preferring to let the people of Changsha speak up for the majority.

In fact, Focus Media boasts only 400 LCDs in offices and apartments in Changsha, while in Shanghai - its largest market - the number has reached tens of thousands.

The many people of Hunan I have talked to are proud of the saying that China will not die as long as there are still Hunanese, referring to the great many important statesmen and revolutionaries from the province in the long history of China.

I believe the Hunanese truly deserve the title, even though in this case the crisis is much less serious compared with those in the nation's history.

The audio/visual pollution produced by the many electronic screens in buildings and on streets, is in indeed a nuisance. It has denied our crowded cities of the last bit of tranquility left. People going to work or returning home are constantly harassed by the commercials beaming from these screens.

And this is exactly what media companies hope to achieve. Yu Feng, former president of Focus Media, once said that places people visit after work are the likely markets for the company.

That is why people in cities like Shanghai find no place to escape because LCDs have taken over.

Nationwide, Focus Media alone has installed more than 100,000 LCDs in some 70,000 buildings. In Shanghai, the company claims its LCDs cover a population of 7 million.

Focus Media is a classic example of producing junk in the information age. Just months ago, its chairman Jiang Nanchun apologized to the public for the huge amount of cell phone spam produced by his firm.

It is probably time for Jiang to rethink seriously about the company's business model, a harassment to the general public.

Whoever advertises on such screens should also start to consider whether they too have become part of this public revulsion.

Tens of millions of Chinese, including many in Shanghai, should feel grateful to the people of Hunan for speaking up for the silent majority.

By taking Focus Media to court, the Hunanese have shown us that we should not remain silent when our rights are infringed, whether by companies, governments or individuals.

It also shows that tolerance is not a virtue when it is abused.

Next time you see companies discharging pollutants, and officials abusing their power, please remember to take them to court, just like the people of Hunan.

E-mail: chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 12/13/2008 page4)