Reporters Without Borders voiced shock and dismay at the dismissal yesterday of the editor-in-chief of the popular daily Xin Jing Bao (Beijing News) and his two deputies, in a move that caused an outcry at the newspaper and prompted some journalists to stop working.
“The Communist Party leaders have strange way of celebrating the end of the year,” the organisation said. “After announcing that Zhao Yan and Ching Cheong are to be tried, the Beijing authorities have decided to kill off one of China’s most popular and liberal newspapers. We affirm our solidarity with the staff of the paper, already hit by Cheng Yizhong’s dismissal and arrest, and we call for the reinstatement of the three editors.”
Editor-in-chief Yang Bin and his deputies, Sun Xeudong and Li Duoyu, were notified of their dismissal by the executives of the newspaper Guangming Ribao (Daily Clarity), a direct offshoot of the Chinese Communist Party. Guangming Ribao supervises Xin Jing Bao, which it created in November 2003 jointly with Guangzhou-based popular daily Nanfang Dushi Bao.
The exact reason for the purge is unknown, but several Chinese intellectuals and journalists told Reporters Without Borders that the Communist Party publicity department had often criticised Xin Jing Bao’s editorial decisions, especially as regards its handling of social issues. An Agence France-Presse dispatch also cited its presentation and, in particular, its use of photos as one of the reasons.
This is not the first time that Xin Jing Bao editors have been sanctioned. The previous editor-in-chief, Cheng Yizhong, who helped create the newspaper, was arrested in March 2004 over several investigative stories that embarrassed the Guangzhou authorities.
Contacted today by Reporters Without Borders, Cheng criticised the dismissal of Yang and his two deputies as a “barbaric gesture” and said most of its journalists were in a state of shock over this “stupid mistake.”
Other Chinese newspapers have been the target of purges this year. China Youth Daily began sticking closer to the Community Party’s propaganda after a new editor was appointed. The daily Henan Shang Bao (Henan Business News) was shut down for a month in September as result of its coverage of a mine accident. Three journalists from this newspaper were also suspended by the publicity department.