Reporters In Trouble for iPod Factory Reporting

Arik Hesseldahl

Just when you thought you'd heard the last of chatter surrouding working conditions at the Chinese factory that makes iPod, here's a new wrinkle: It turns out some of the reporters involved in publishing the allegations in Chinese newspapers are facing their own heat.

Hon Hai Precision Industry, aka Foxconn, which has the contract to manufacture the iPod from Apple, has taken reporter Wang You and editor Weng Bao of China Business News (Diyi Jingji Ribao) to court. According to this Associated Press report, Hongfujin Precision Industry, which is owned by Hon Hai, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the two journalists, who had alleged in their stories that workers made little pay and worked under horrendous conditions.(You can read what I wrote about the allegations at the time here.) Apple, quickly investigated, and earlier this month reported its findings.

The AP, citing local media reports, says the Shenzhen Intermediate Court accepted the case on July 10 and -- get this -- froze the personal assets of the two journalists. I don't know about you, but the thought of having my assets frozen before I get a chance to defend myself and my reporting in court is pretty nerve-wracking.

So, in steps the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, who sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs urging Apple to "intercede with your subcontractor" and drop the lawsuit. An Apple spokeswoman told the AP it is "working behind the scenes to resolve the issue."

Whats curious about the case is that Apple has publicly acknowledged that some abuses of its supplier code of conduct did take place, and that it had demanded some changes from Hon Hai, and so the reporting about labor conditions at the plant in question didn't just spring out of nowhere. Usually that would be sufficient to get a case like this thrown out in most western countries. But that's China for you.

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