A leadership change announced today at the top of one of China’s most important media groups, the Guangzhou-based Nanfang Daily Media Group, could herald new troubles ahead for its longstanding culture of relative editorial independence.
According to a news report from Caixin Media today — which happens to be World Press Freedom Day — the position of party secretary at the Nanfang Daily Media Group will now be held by Yang Jian (杨健), who serves also as a deputy minister in Guangdong’s provincial propaganda department.
This is the first time a top position at the group will be held by an “outsider,” sources say, and the first time the top positions — party secretary (党委书记) and director (社长) — will be held separately.
“There were several attempts in the past to install Party officials at the top level of the Nanfang Daily Group, but these attempts were always successfully opposed by the group,” one former top editor told CMP.
In the past, the top positions at the Nanfang Daily Media Group have been held by a single individual emerging from within the group and respectful of its unique, often pioneering character as a news organization. Former directors like Fan Yijin (范以锦), who participated in the launch of professionally-inclined newspapers like Southern Weekend and The Beijing News, have commanded respect within the organization and in the Chinese journalism profession at large.
Yang Xingfeng (杨兴锋), who is stepping aside as party secretary at the group to make room for Yang Jian, will reportedly continue to serve as the group’s director.
Yang Xingfeng began work as a news reporter at Nanfang Daily in 1982 and rose through the organization, becoming the group’s editor-in-chief in 2001 and party secretary and director in November 2006.
The irony of this move at the top of one of China’s top press groups coming on World Press Freedom Day did not escape users on Sina Weibo. “On World Press Freedom Day, there is change at the Nanfang Daily Group,” wrote one user, linking to the report from Caixin Media on ifeng.com.
Another user wrote: “There’s a personnel change at the Nanfang Daily Group. Will it be readable after this?”
But perhaps the best indication of what the change at the top at the Nanfang Daily Media Group could mean came in a post made to a verified Sina Weibo account by an “investigator” for the Hubei provincial propaganda department:
The Nanfang Daily Group’s public opinion guidance will now be more correct, and more authoritative!