China silences former critic, the liberal Nanfang news group

A shot of the Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekend, or Nanfang Weekend). File Photo

A shot of the Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekend, or Nanfang Weekend). File Photo

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,” 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”


Officials Are Always Correct, Two True Stories of Despotism

In Mao Era, Lots of Innocent People Imprisoned as Officials Were Always Correct

In Mao era, an era not only millions of Chinese Maoists but lots of people outside China regard as an era of idealist fairness and justice, quite a few people just disappeared for weeks and even months before their families received notices from the police that they were detained. Their family members were not allowed to visit them.

Having got no news about the detained for months afterwards, a worried family member went to the police to make enquiry and even insisted that the detained must be released since nothing guilty had been found after months of investigation.

The standard reply he got from the police was:

“He is certainly guilty. Can we ever be wrong?”

Officials are always correct!

If the family member persisted in demanding for release and after the prolonged investigation nothing guilty could be found, the police framed up some crime and put the detained in jail to prove that they were always correct. As a result, lots of innocent people were imprisoned and had to be rehabilitated after the fall of the Gang of Four.

Story of Deng, the Despotic Official in the Song Dynasty

“Only the official is allowed to set fire, but the common people are not allowed to light lanterns.” This Chinese saying gives a vivid description of the traditional despotism of Chinese officials. No wonder, it has been so popular in China.

The saying originated from a true story in Chinese history:

In the Song Dynasty, it was a crime to use the characters in an emperor’s name in writing while those similar in sound were not allowed to use in speaking.

Like lots of officials in feudal China, a prefectural governor named Deng regarded himself as a local emperor with similar authority to the emperor’s in his jurisdiction. As soon as he took office, he posted an announcement banning the use of “deng”.

The officials under him were in trouble at Lantern Festival when fire-prevention ban on lighting lanterns all night long should be lifted for three days. They had to post an announcement to allow people to light lanterns for three days, but they could not use the word lantern that contained the sound “deng” in Chinese. Finally a clever official found a way out. He used “set fire” to replace “light lantern”. The announcement then reads, “It is Lantern Festival (yuanxiao in Chinese that does not contain the sound of deng) now. People are allowed to set fire for three days.”

A traveling scholar passing by found the announcement absurd and asked and learnt the reason why people were allowed to “set fire” instead of lighting lanterns. With indignation, he wrote on the lower part of the announcement: “Only the official is allowed to set fire, but the common people are not allowed to light lanterns.”

What he wrote soon became a very popular saying in describing an official’s irrational words or deed.

PLA Officer Assaulting an Airhostess

Recently, we have the following quite interesting similar story:

Boarding deadline had passed for Flight CZ3874 from Hefei to Guangzhou. No one was allowed to board now. But there is always exception in this great country with a long history of official despotism.

Mr. Fang and his wife, obviously having enjoyed some drinks as indicated by the strong smell of alcohol around them, swaggered to the boarding entry.

“Sir, you are too late to board the plane. It will soon take off.”

“What? Has it taken off? Can it take off without me on board?” yelled Mr. Fang. Obviously, he was somebody.

“He is the political commissar of the military department and member of Yuexiu District Party Standing Committee,” said Mrs. Fang.

“Okay, I will let you in, but hurry up. They may close the door soon,” said the airport attendant afraid of offending an official.

The couple swaggered into the cabin and found their seats. Seeing the late comers, a flight attendant Ms. Zhou said to them, “Let me help you” while going towards them in haste in order to help them put away their luggage in time before the plane took off.

Unfortunately, the luggage rack above their seats was full. Ms. Zhou was searching for space for the couple’s two suitcases on the rack above the seats rows before the couple’s. However, Mr. Fang insisted that their suitcases should be put above their seats. He took down from the rack something like a suitcase and put his suitcase into the space.

“No, that is the surveillance equipment for aircraft security,” said Ms. Zhou. “It should not be moved.” She explained to the couple once and again that the equipment might not be moved, but the couple would not listen. Instead they were so upset that Mr. Fang took down his suitcase from the rack and hit hard at Ms. Zhou’s shoulder with it.

Ms. Zhou screamed. The couple began to yell at her calling her names and asked her, “Are you a porcelain doll untouchable?”

Ms. Zhou tried to take pictures of the luggage rack, but was pulled and hit by Mr. Fang again. There were lots of bruises on her hand, neck and body. Her uniform was torn due to the violence. The chief flight attendant came rushing to pull Mr. Fang away while Mrs Fang yelled by their side, “She is but an airhostess. I know your CEO!”

After landing, Ms. Zhou and others wanted to bring the couple who assaulted her to a police substation for investigation, but Mr. Fang intimidated Ms. Zhou by saying that he would call a military vehicle because as a PLA officer, he is beyond police jurisdiction.

However, they were finally in a police substation where Mr. Fang said, he wanted a peaceful settlement. If not, even the police could not handle the issue or detain him because he belonged to the military. Moreover, he was an NPC deputy beyond police jurisdiction. That was why he dared to assault others. Finally, the police were helpless and allowed the couple to swagger out of the police substation, leaving Ms. Zhou weeping in the substation.

However, it is not Song Dynasty now. People can show their indignation through the internet.

Ms. Zhou posted an account of the assault and pictures of the bruises on her arm and neck on Sina’s popular microblog that night. Web users indignant at the PLA officer’s abuse reblogged Zhou’s post widely.

Guangdong Province’s party mouthpiece Nanfang Daily published a short report on the incident in its website and said that the authority was investigating the incident.

Two days later Yuexiu District publicity office published an announcement that distorted the fact, saying Mr. Fang had not assaulted Ms. Zhou but his family members “pushed and shoved” her. The statement also denied that Fang tried to bully or intimidate Zhou. In order to quell public anger, it said that Mr. Fang had formally apologized to Ms Zhou.

However, this attempt to cover up an official’s misconduct and defend the allegation “officials are always right” does not work.

Shielded by his colleagues, Mr. Fang perhaps could gag local newspapers, but was helpless before national media. Both Xinhua and the party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily came out to interfere.

SCMP says on September 4, “Xinhua ran a lengthy interview with a student from the Central African Republic who was on the flight. He said the Fang couple ‘boarded rather late and smelled of alcohol’.

“The student also confirmed that Fang tore the attendant’s suit in the incident, and that Fang’s wife tried to scratch herself so as to frame the attendant.”

Xinhua “went further, with a commentary questioning Yuexiu District’s handling of the case. ‘The attack has become a public event, and should not be solved privately. Only an open and transparent investigation can prevent the abuse of power,’” Xinhua said.