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Row with censors spreads to Beijing paper
Publication Date : 10-01-2013
Just as a sensational censorship controversy in southern Guangdong province appeared to be resolved, another one has erupted in the Chinese capital, posing further problems for China's new leadership.
Dai Zigeng, editor-in-chief and publisher of the Beijing News daily, reportedly quit on Tuesday night after he was forced to print a state-sanctioned editorial criticising the weekly newspaper at the centre of the Guangdong storm.
An editorial published on Sunday by the Global Times had slammed those supporting the Southern Weekend, whose journalists staged a rare strike against Guangdong's censors for altering the paper's New Year message.
China's propaganda authorities ordered major dailies across the country to carry the editorial, which many did on Tuesday. The Beijing News was among the few that resisted.
But hours before going to print on Tuesday night, senior government officials turned up at the paper's office in Beijing's Dongcheng district, demanding that the editorial be printed.
Dai refused. A vote was held among the journalists with a majority opposing the publication of the editorial, according to witness accounts.
But the officials allegedly threatened a forced closure of the paper, claiming the instructions came from China's top leadership.
Dai, 49, who is the paper's highest-ranked Communist Party official as head of its editorial committee, then told the officials he would resign.
"All the female journalists broke into tears," wrote a netizen yesterday - one of many who revealed Dai's quitting and the newsroom drama.
Foreign media yesterday quoted a Beijing propaganda official as saying Dai was still at work.
News of a second censorship controversy in a week, this time involving one of the capital's most popular newspapers, sparked criticism against the country's leaders and propaganda officials - and praise for the journalists.
Started in 2003, the Beijing News was a joint venture between the Guangming Daily Group and the Southern Media Group, which also owns the Southern Weekend.
In 2011, the paper, with a daily circulation of 870,000, was transferred to the capital's propaganda department.
Said netizen Peng Xiaoyun in a Sina Weibo microblog posting: "The fact that the chief editor had to quit showed that media management was too humiliating and heavy-handed."
Another wrote: "We salute Mr Dai and all staff of Beijing News!"
By noon, many of the postings were removed.
Yesterday's copy of the Beijing daily carried the contentious editorial - albeit on Page 20 and with only half of the original 1,346 words.
The Global Times piece had blamed the Southern Weekend uproar on meddling by "foreign forces".
Reports yesterday said Guangdong's new party chief Hu Chunhua had intervened to resolve the dispute between Southern's editors and the censors.
The ruckus had begun when the province's censors allegedly edited the paper's January 3 message calling for stronger constitutional rule to one that praised the Communist Party.
It was reportedly altered by Guangdong propaganda chief Tuo Zhen, though officials deny his involvement.
Hundreds of protesters turned up on Monday at the paper's Guangzhou office demanding Tuo's resignation. The paper's journalists started a strike the same day, demanding an end to censorship and no reprisals for its staff, and threatening cancellation of the paper's next issue, due out today.
An editor was reported yesterday as saying a verbal agreement to meet journalists' demands was reached. "Basically it's back to normal, but we'll see how the two sides react to each other in the future."
Observers say the two incidents cast doubts on the political will behind China's new leadership under Xi Jinping to allow more media freedom.
After taking over the reins of the party last November, the new leaders had raised hopes of media freedom, with instructions to media outlets not to copy wholesale reports from state news agency Xinhua and to exercise better news judgment.
Said observer Zhang Jian of Peking University: "Both incidents are aimed at 'killing the chicken to scare the monkey' - or to make an example of them. The message to other Chinese media is that they should not aspire to have too much freedom."