China’s censorship row takes another ugly turn

We were hearing late yesterday that negotiations were going ahead in Guangdong that might enable Southern Weekly to return to its former status quo, bringing to a close the one-week standoff between newspaper staff and overbearing local propaganda leaders. The big news today is that the Southern Weekly incident has claimed its first professional casualty, with the resignation of Dai Zigeng (戴自更) as publisher of The Beijing News in protest of a propaganda order forcing Chinese newspapers to run a hardline editorial from the Global Times.

[UPDATE 5pm: SCMP is now reporting that Dai's resignation was "verbal" and it is uncertain whether this has been accepted by Beijing propaganda authorities. Note, the authorities have a strong interest in maintaining Dai's presence as publisher until this boils over. What we need is word from Dai himself.]

Like Southern Weekly, The Beijing News is recognized as one of China’s top professional newspapers. It also has a familial relationship to Southern Weekly, having been originally launched by former Southern Metropolis Daily editor-in-chief Cheng Yizhong (程益中) as a joint venture between the Nanfang Media Group and Guangming Daily.

In one of the biggest China media stories of 2011, The Beijing News was transfered to direct control by Beijing’s municipal Party committee, essentially knocking it down an administrative rank and making it more difficult for the paper to report more sensitive local stories in the capital.

According to one version of yesterday’s events, The Beijing News received a visit from a Beijing city-level propaganda official after it refused to publish the Global Times editorial, which appeared in many papers across the country (and had been pasted across the internet the day before). The official reportedly threatened to dissolve the newspaper if it did not comply with the central-level order to run the Global Times piece.

After receiving this warning, The Beijing News held a staff vote to decide whether or not to comply with the propaganda order. The vote was in favor of “not reprinting” (拒绝转载). Soon after, Dai Zigeng submitted his resignation to local propaganda authorities and the mood inside the paper was reportedly dismal, with many staffers in tears.


[ABOVE: Dai Zigeng resigned as publisher of The Beijing News yesterday over a propaganda order instructing media to run a hardline editorial from the Global Times.]

The pressure from Beijing propaganda leaders continued, however, and the decision was eventually made late last night — by exactly whom is not yet clear — to run the Global Times editorial in today’s edition. The editorial appears on Page 20 under the headline, “Global Times Runs Editorial on the Southern Weekly Incident.”

We’ll keep our eye on this case and share anything we can at the earliest possible opportunity.

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