China’s Communist Party silences former critic, the liberal Nanfang news group
With papers like Southern Weekly, Nanfang Media hit government hard and often – but after overhaul it will avoid negative stories
PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 August, 2015, 11:53pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 August, 2015, 2:10pm
Mimi Lau in Guangzhou
The once outspoken Nanfang Media Group has adopted a raft of measures to align it with the Communist Party, weed out “negative” reports and ensure staff toe the official line.
Some employees had already been punished for transgressions dating to 2013, according to a report this week in the Nanfang Daily News.
Former editors saw the changes as the final nail in the coffin for what was once the best media outfit on the mainland and further evidence the leadership would tighten its grip on the industry nationwide.
The group underwent an inspection by the Guangdong provincial discipline watchdog in April and was roundly criticised in an assessment released the following month.
A reform task force was being led by the group’s party secretary Mo Gaoyi, who stepped down as deputy director of the provincial propaganda department in 2013.
The measures include strengthening the group’s party membership base and stepping up editorial management, according to the report.
Study sessions had been running since March and employees would be referring to instructional materials on Marxist news values.
As part of the overhaul, the group’s newspapers would sharply curb “negative” coverage and run “positive and mainstream” stories.
“Under the mechanism, Southern Weekly, Southern Metropolis News and 21st Century Business Herald have successfully transformed into mainstream reporting … where general social news, especially negative news has been greatly reduced,” the report said.
A former editor at the News who resigned last year said the group had become a pure propaganda vehicle. “It has become a party mouthpiece inside and out where every corner has been refined,” said the editor, who declined to be named.
Chang Ping, a former deputy editor at the Southern Metropolis Weekly, said the report demonstrated the confidence and complacency of propaganda officials. He predicted the crackdown on Guangdong media would be expanded into a national campaign.
“From a landmark media outlet where skills and professional knowledge far exceeded all other mainland media a decade ago, [the group] has degenerated and its influence is not even comparable to new media outlets such as Caixin or Thepaper.cn,” Chang said. Journalists had succumbed to government pressure and the profession as a whole should refuse to compromise, he said.
In 2013, editorial staff at Southern Weekly staged a protest over censorship of its popular New Year editorial. The stand-off sparked a rally by activists over government media controls, and grabbed international headlines.
The Nanfang group again drew the national spotlight last September, when the top management at the group that publishes the widely read 21st Century Business Herald were arrested over an extortion scam.
Correction: A quote was mistakenly attributed to a company statement instead of a report in the Nanfang Daily News.
Source: SCMP “China silences former critic, the liberal Nanfang news group”
Since Jiang Zemin stressed the rule of law at the 15th CCP National Congress in 1997, China has promulgated quite a few laws to have a complete system of laws, trained hundreds of thousand legal professionals.
Soon after Xi Jinping took over the reign, he closed all the black jails in Beijing and abolished the labor camp (reeducation through labor) system. In October, Xi held the fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CCP Central Committee on governing the nation according to law, stressing the dominance of China’s constitution and judicial independence.
Some people believe that there has been no political reform in China since it began its economic reform. This blogger shall remind them that the legal reform for the rule of law is China’s vital political reform as without the rule of law there can never be true democracy.
The next step, this blogger believe, shall not be a democratic reform but a reform focusing on human rights especially freedom of press and speech, without which, democracy will but be empty talks.
The following is the full text of Reuters report today on China’s efforts to adopt circuit courts for judicial independence:
China to adopt circuit courts to reduce interference: Xinhua
China has adopted pilot programs for circuit courts and courts with jurisdiction across different regions designed to reduce local officials’ interference in the judiciary, state media reported on Tuesday.
Legal reforms are a key platform for President Xi Jinping’s government to restore popular faith in the ruling Communist Party and judicial system amid simmering public discontent over miscarriages of justice often caused by officials’ abuse of power.
The party had flagged the decision to establish circuit courts and courts that would span administrative regions at a party meeting, or plenum, in October.
Exploring administrative divisions that would go across the courts and the prosecutors would “help eliminate interference in judicial and procuratorial work to ensure that the courts and prosecutors are independent and impartial”, Xinhua news agency said, at the conclusion of the seventh meeting of the Leading Group for Overall Reform, chaired by Xi.
The circuit courts would help parties “settle disputes on the spot and make it convenient for them”, Xinhua said.
The report did not say when the pilot programs would be launched.
In June, state media said provincial governments would pick judges and prosecutors and fix the budgets of local courts and procuratorates. The system currently gives local governments greater sway in appointments.
Since he took office in March 2013, Xi has called for judicial independence under the party. But at the same time, his administration has detained hundreds of dissidents in what some activists say is the worst suppression of human rights in two decades.
Despite the legal reforms, Xi has shown no interest in political change. It is uncertain how much of an impact the plenum’s policies will have. Laws are often not enforced and can be abused by the police.
Source: Reuters “China to adopt circuit courts to reduce interference: Xinhua”
China will force real-name registrations on public accounts of instant messaging tools and require those wishing to publish or reprint political news to seek prior approval, state media and Tencent Holdings Ltd said on Thursday.
Last year, China launched a campaign to clamp down on online rumor mongering and ‘clean up’ the internet. The crackdown has led to an exodus of users from Twitter-like microblog platforms such as Weibo Corp’s Weibo after authorities detained hundreds of outspoken users.
The latest restrictions will affect hugely popular mobile messaging apps such as Tencent’s WeChat, which has almost 400 million users. Other instant messaging tools include Tencent’s QQ, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s [IPO-BABA.N] Laiwang app, NetEase Inc’s Yixin and Xiaomi Inc’s Miliao.
Public, or official, accounts can send out single messages to a much larger number of followers than individual users and are commonly used by media organizations and companies.
Accounts that haven’t been approved by the instant messaging service provider are forbidden to publish or reprint political news, the official Xinhua news agency said. It added that service providers must verify and publicly mark accounts that can publish or reprint political news.
Public account users must also sign an agreement with the service provider when they register, promising “to comply with the law, the socialist system, the national interest, citizens’ legal rights, public order, social moral customs, and authenticity of information,” Xinhua said.
These new regulations could have a similar effect to the one seen on Weibo last year.
The rules “could cool down the traffic of WeChat public accounts and discourage journalists from setting up individual WeChat public accounts,” said Fu King-wa, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre.
Tencent said it would work within the new regulations which it stressed would only apply to public accounts and not to everyday users.
“We will take measures against offensive and abusive activities to ensure compliance with relevant regulations,” a spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement.
Alibaba declined to comment. Xiaomi declined to provide immediate comment by telephone, while NetEase was not available for immediate comment by phone.
As apps like WeChat have grown in popularity, they have increasingly come under the ruling Communist Party’s gaze.
“WeChat, and social media, are now truly mass media and regulated as such,” said Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based tech advisory BDA.
“There are challenges of course in regulating (WeChat), but the Party will never loosen up,” said Clark.
On Thursday, South Korea said Chinese authorities had blocked messaging apps KakaoTalk, operated by South Korean Kakao Talk, and Line, a Japanese-based subsidiary of South Korea’s Naver Corp, as part of efforts to fight terrorism, the first official explanation of service disruptions in China that began a month ago.
Other services such as online video streaming sites run by Youku Tudou Inc, Sohu.com Inc, Baidu Inc and Tencent have also been targeted by censors in recent months.
Tencent shares were down 3.5 percent in Hong Kong trading on Thursday, versus a 0.8 percent drop in the Hang Seng Index.
Source: Reuters “China imposes new restrictions on instant messaging tools: Xinhua”
- China holds two bloggers as it expands crackdown on rumors dated February 18, 2013
- China experimenting with more ‘subtle’ Internet censorship dated June 2, 2013
China is not trying to ban reporters from publishing critical reports without prior approval, an official told state media on Thursday, insisting an order had been misinterpreted and its real goal was to stop journalists abusing their jobs.
The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued rules on Wednesday saying reporters could only publish critical stories if their employer had signed off on it, sparking accusations of censorship.
The rules come as the government intensifies a crackdown on freedom of expression, both online and in traditional media.
But Jiang Jianguo, deputy head of the administration, told the official Xinhua news agency that the government was dedicated to protecting reporters’ rights.
“Some people misinterpreted our instruction as not allowing press criticism in general, but in fact, we have resolutely protected reporters’ lawful professional rights and positively support media supervision via public opinion,” Jiang said.
The order that reporters get their employers’ approval to conduct critical reporting is “in line with regular regulations and addresses the problem journalists abusing their positions for blackmail”, Jiang added.
The rules are part of a national campaign against crooked and fake reporters who demand hush money for burying negative stories, which often are untrue, Xinhua said.
“This behavior has severely violated the rights of ordinary people, damaged media organizations’ reputations and smeared the image of journalists,” Jiang said.
China adopted tough measures to crack down on online rumors last year, but critics say the campaign is simply a means to target criticism of the ruling Communist Party that has chilled political discourse.
China’s news media is heavily censored and media organizations need to obtain licenses from the government before publishing.
State media has been the key vehicle for party propaganda, but reforms over the past decade have allowed greater commercialization and some increase in editorial independence.
Source: Reuters “China denies trying to ban unapproved critical media coverage”
- China’s great firewall grows ever higher to reduce freedom of press dated October 23, 2013
- ‘Don’t teach freedom of press or Communist Party mistakes’, Chinese academics told dated May 10, 2013
- Struggle for Press Freedom Goes on dated January 19, 2013
- China: Southern Weekend Staff Strike for Press Freedom dated January 7, 2013
- China: Freedom of Press, a Battle Worth Fighting dated January 4, 2013
China’s central publishing regulator, in a rare acknowledgement of the rights of journalists, expressed concern on Thursday about a detained reporter, a case that has stirred outrage after a newspaper pleaded with police on its front page to let him go.
Chen Yongzhou was detained after writing more than a dozen stories criticizing the finances of a major state-owned construction equipment maker, a move that coincides with new curbs on journalists, lawyers and internet users in China.
“The General Association of Press and Publishing (GAPP) resolutely supports the news media conducting normal interviewing and reporting activities and resolutely protects journalists’ normal and legal rights to interview,” the China Press and Publishing Journal, which is overseen by the association itself, said, citing an association official.
“At the same time, it resolutely opposes any abuse of the right to conduct interviews.”
The article said the association was paying “close attention” to the matter.
Chen reported extensively for the state-backed New Express tabloid on Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. Ltd., saying the company had engaged in sales fraud, exaggerated its profits and used public relations to defame its competitors, accusations strongly denied by the company.
Zoomlion told Reuters on Wednesday it had complained to Changsha police about Chen. Police said they had detained Chen on charges he had defamed a business.
In an unusually bold response, New Express published a front-page commentary on Wednesday, headlined by three huge characters saying: “Please free him.” On Thursday, the headline read: “Again, please free him.”
The central government-backed All China Journalists Association told state media that it had asked the Ministry of Public Security to guarantee Chen’s safety and handle the matter fairly.
Press freedom in China is considered a sensitive topic, but Chinese-language media with state backing carried stories about the incident on Tuesday and Wednesday with no obvious sign of official censorship.
GAPP said it had noted the attention internet users had paid to the issue. Chen’s story had gone viral on Wednesday on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog service.
Source: Reuters “In rare move, China regulator voices concern for detained reporter”
This week I was scheduled to attend a seminar on new and social media in China with other British journalists, but first I needed a visa. It never came. Consular officials told me that I was denied entrance because I didn’t have an appropriate letter of invitation – but others in my party traveled with the same documentation that I provided.
So why couldn’t I visit? I fell back on an explanation that seemed rational: the authorities hadn’t liked my journalism.
I’ve been working for the last three years with a young Chinese journalist on a book about the state of Chinese investigative journalism. Over a year ago, we published a joint piece in the Financial Times in which we argued that the scope of investigative journalism in China has narrowed, and noted the growing list of reporters who have been fired. One of the most famed, Wang Keqin, had uncovered a series of frauds and failures by the authorities that resulted in his sacking, twice – once in 2011, and again, from another paper, in February of this year.
We argued that what had been at least a partial breakthrough to real – if risky – investigative writing was now being suppressed. Because of this, journalists had to turn to activism – bearing witness to protests, environmental and industrial issues and mobilization of disaffected groups.
I may be over-hasty in concluding that I was refused because of my journalism (though two Chinese friends were sure I wasn’t). And I’m aware this might be self-serving: in western journalistic circles there’s more pride than shame in having a visa denied on the basis of publishing something unwelcome. Regardless, the situation my co-author and I wrote about a little over a year ago has become worse. New media, which was to bring unprecedented freedom of expression to authoritarian societies, has been proven no more immune to control than the mainstream media.
Not only have the boldest spirits among China’s journalists been squelched, but the Internet has, too. Bill Clinton once argued that trying to control the Internet was “like nailing jello to the wall,” but in China it’s being controlled nonetheless. Reportedly up to 2 million Internet monitors scan the estimated 700 million Chinese Web users (which is more than half the population), while an even greater army of “50-centers” put out positive messages about society, government and the Party for which they are paid 50 cents. The artist Ai Weiwei managed to persuade one of them to speak to him last year: the 50-center told the artist that every day, an email from the government’s Internet publicity office gives “instructions on which direction to guide the netizens’ thoughts, to blur their focus, or to fan their enthusiasm for certain ideas.”
On the micro blog site Weibo – developed by the Sina online media corporation after the Chinese authorities barred Twitter from the country, now with 500 million users’ accounts – the more outspoken commentators have been warned to cool it. In one case, Charles Xue, a Chinese-American venture capitalist with 12 million followers on Weibo, was arrested in August, and charged with having sex with a prostitute: whatever the truth of the charge, Mr. Xue’s public apology was not for a sin of the flesh but for – as he said in his confession – “irresponsibility in spreading information online (in)…a negative mood…freedom of speech cannot override the law.” An authoritative account for the Reuters Institute by the Beijing-based reporter Bei Jiao concluded that “control over Weibo is intensifying, limiting freedom of speech. Journalists are increasingly cautious posting anything significant after learning the lessons of their own or others’ mistakes.”
One observer, Xiao Qiang of the University of California at Berkeley, told the New York Times that “we’re only seeing the beginning of this campaign…(the authorities) will be much harsher, and the targets will be the more influential people in the Chinese public sphere.”
Most observers credit the crackdown to Xi Jinping, the new Communist Party leader and president: though Chinese top level politics remain opaque, informed commentators believe that he and his closest colleagues have a strong bias toward closer control over all aspects of society.
Last week, People’s Daily published a long editorial by the chief editor Yang Zhenwu. It was a commentary on Xi Jinping’s speech in August, at a conference on propaganda and ideology, underscoring how important the words of the new leader were. The piece repeated, many times, the absolute necessity of having the media “run by politicians” – by which the editor means that all media must be under the direction of the Party, and “consolidate and expand mainstream ideology and public opinion.”
The repeated invocations of the necessity of “politicians running newspapers” harks back – though Yang Zhenwu did not say so – to a debate that Mao Zedong had with senior party journalists in the 1950s, when the Communist Party was consolidating its role. Some editors sought to keep control of the press in the hands of intellectuals – who, though loyal party members, nevertheless could preserve a measure of detachment and even space for some criticism. Mao dismissed that. For him, the press was the extension of the party. Its importance lay in what it could teach the masses, how it could inspire them. The People’s Daily editorial of last week – arguing as it does that “traditional and new media must explicitly implement the policies of unity, stability, encouragement and give first place to positive propaganda” – is an extension of Mao. As the penitent Xue said, “freedom of speech cannot override the law” – and the law is constraining freedom of speech.
As the Chinese leadership surveys the geopolitical scene, the decline of the West is evident, not just because of its economic crises but also because of the free press it cultivates. Journalism, with its revelations of vast surveillance of communications by security agencies in the U.S. and the UK, has undermined the countries’ standings. For the Chinese leadership, the spectacle of a determinedly revelatory news media and so-far powerless governments must point to only one conclusion: don’t let the journalists take any real power. Tell those who try to take it to hold their silly tongues. And do everything in your power to make sure they do. Politicians must run the news.
(John Lloyd is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Source: Reuters “Column: China’s great firewall grows ever higher”
Ex-Communist Party chief who was purged in 1987 and whose death in 1989 sparked the Tiananmen protests is commemorated by state media
The mainland mourned late reformist leader Hu Yaobang yesterday on the 24th anniversary of his death – the first time he has been commemorated under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, whose father was his ally.
A party newspaper and state news websites published articles commemorating him, and ordinary citizens turned up at his former home to pay tribute.
The former Communist Party chief, who was purged in 1987, remains a relatively sensitive figure as his sudden death in 1989 sparked commemorative activities that later turned into the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement. The protests ended in the bloody June 4 crackdown.
Hu was an ally of Xi Zhongxun, late father of Xi Jinping, and a respected communist revolutionary. When Hu was forced by conservative party elders to resign for condoning widespread student protests the year before, the elder Xi stood by him.
Since Xi Jinping assumed power as party chief in November, there has been speculation over whether he will follow in his father’s footsteps and embrace liberal reforms. Analysts say that by showing affection for Hu, people were hoping for signs of Xi’s support for reform.
Hu was fondly remembered by many for spearheading economic and political reforms, as well as his rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands wrongly persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, including the elder Xi.
Although the party officially restored Hu’s reputation posthumously in 2005 on the 90th anniversary of his birth, public mention of him remained rare and former premier Wen Jiabao made headlines when People’s Daily published an article on his eulogy of Hu in 2010.
The Shanghai-based Liberation Daily yesterday published an article by Zhou Ruijin , its former editor-in-chief, praising Hu for pushing reforms against all odds. While Hu faced ideological obstacles in the 1980s, Xi is up against “even bigger, more comprehensive and deeper conflicts and vested interests”, it said.
“When we have reached the historical stage where we need to give reform a strong push, it is very meaningful and timely to commemorate [Hu] Yaobang now,” Zhou wrote.
“As we remember Hu Yaobang, we should, just like him, have the determination to reform and the courage to innovate.”
In Zhou’s commentary for the Hong Kong-based Phoenix News website, he went further, saying: “If Deng Xiaoping was the chief architect of China’s reform and opening, then Hu Yaobang deserves to be called its chief engineer.”
Zhou also praised Hu’s endorsement of Xi Zhongxun’s work in liberalising the economy in Guangdong in the late ’70s.
Hu’s son, Hu Dehua, also paid tribute to his father, saying he hoped the new leadership would show similar courage in carrying out political reform despite facing bigger obstacles.
“Today, you need even greater wisdom, courage, magnanimity and compassion,” he told the South China Morning Post.
“We hope they will continue to reform and liberalise.” Hu Dehua said many constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech and publication, had not been granted to citizens, and there were no laws to safeguard those rights. “We hope the leaders will solve these problems, otherwise they would become even more serious.”
Independent political commentator Chen Ziming said it was unlikely that Zhou’s article was backed by Xi and there had been no evidence that the president supported political reform. He said it was probably state media testing the tolerance of Hu’s legacy “to see whether they could go one step further”.
Veteran journalist and historian Yang Jisheng also noted that Xi had not mentioned political reform since he became party chief, although he emphasised the importance of adhering to Marxism and Mao’s thoughts.
Scores of Hu supporters tried to pay tribute to him at his former home in Beijing yesterday. Several managed to get in, while dozens were turned away.
Source: SCMP “State media offer rare praise for reformer Hu Yaobang”