December 30, 2005

Chinese reporters walk out over editor’s removal

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - About 100 Beijing News reporters walked
out in protest at this week's dismissal of the top editor, the
latest victim of China's strict press controls, industry
sources said on Friday.

Disgruntled journalists also displayed their anger through
a photograph in the paper showing a flock of birds flying
through dark skies above the newspaper's office, with one bird
leading. "The sky may not be very clear, but they will still
fly into the distance with their mission close to their
hearts," said a note with the picture.

The editor-in-chief of the Beijing News, Yang Bin, was
abruptly removed two days ago without any official explanation.

Friday's acts of defiance by journalists were the latest in
a long struggle between the Communist Party, which tries to
control information, and China's newspapers and magazines,
which want to attract readers and revenue with bold reporting.

A Beijing editor said propaganda officials singled out the
Beijing News for criticism at a December 6 meeting, where it
was decided that "city tabloids" like the News should
"strengthen Party control" and bow to the wishes of propaganda

In recent years, the stolid Guangming Daily and People's
Daily in Beijing, and other propaganda broadsheets, have turned
to new tabloids as profit-makers.

In turn, these tabloids have sometimes defied censors by
appealing to central patronage.

The Beijing News "committed errors in the orientation of
opinion" and was a "recidivist," officials said, according to
the editor who was formally briefed on the meeting.

The Propaganda Department also rejected an offer by the
feisty tabloid to "put its own house in order," said the
editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, because of the
sensitivity of propaganda rules in China.


The editor said propaganda officials criticized the Beijing
News' reporting of the June murder of 7 rural protesters by
officials in Dingzhou, northern China; as well as relatively
sympathetic reports about a migrant worker who killed his
foreman and three others after his wages went unpaid.

The Propaganda Department chief, Liu Yunshan, said the
News' problems must be "fundamentally resolved," said the

While Communist Party officials were reasserting their hold
on the tabloid, nearly instantaneous Internet reporting of the
Yang's sacking and a flurry of online discussions suggested
limits to the party's control.

At the Beijing News a petition denouncing Yang's dismissal
and the handover of controls to more conservative editors from
its parent newspaper, the Guangming Daily, was circulated among
staff, said reporters at the paper.

Some speculated that the Guangming Daily, which owns 51
percent of the Beijing News, wanted more control over the more
lucrative tabloid.

"The real reason is the black hands of power and
self-interest are at work," said one veteran journalist.

China's mushrooming Internet is policed by censors and
users are blocked from some sites. Many reports of Yang's
dismissal were removed from the Internet after an hour or two.

But China's explosive Internet growth, with 100 million
registered users, makes it difficult for censors to block news.

"The government can still exercise 100 percent control over
(newspaper) personnel decisions, but it has no such control
over the flow of information," said Jiao Guobiao, a journalism
professor who was pressured out of his job in March after
denouncing China's propaganda controls on the Internet.

(Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim)