Reporters Without Borders today condemned Huang Liangtian’s dismissal as editor of Bai Xing (Popular Masses), a monthly owned by the agriculture ministry that has acquired a reputation for investigative reporting. Under political pressure, Huang’s superiors told him on 30 December he was being transferred to a minor publication.
“After starting 2006 with purges in Xin Jing Bao (Beijing News), Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis News) and Bing Dian (Freezing Point), the Propaganda Department ended the year by unceremoniously removing the courageous editor of a magazine that did not hesitate to condemn corruption and land seizures,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The authorities are allowing foreign journalists more freedom, but at the same time, the Chinese media are still being kept under strict surveillance by the Propaganda Department and by local authorities,” the press freedom organisation added.
According to Huang, the publication to which he has been moved does not give “real news.” He said he feared that Bai Xing’s editorial policy would be reined in following his removal. “I am not sure that press freedom is going to improve for the governmental media,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “I am sad that my life as a journalist is being stopped like this.”
After working for Peasants’ Daily for 20 years, Huang was appointed editor of Bai Xing in 2004, turning it into a magazine specialising in the conditions of peasants and workers. Its website (www.bxjj.cn) was closed last November by the authorities because of its articles on corruption.
The magazine’s most recent issue contained an investigative piece about land seizures in the eastern province of Jiangsu. Last April, it reported that the government of a poor region in the central province of Henan had build a square larger than Tiananmen Square in Beijing and had refused to compensate peasants who had been evicted to make way for the colossal project. The local branch of the Communist Party asked Bai Xing to apologise for the report, claiming that it had insulted the entire Chinese government.
According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper, Huang’s colleagues think his dismissal was prompted by the magazine’s reporting on corruption, land seizures and workers’ rights.
Meanwhile, under the new rules for the international press that took effect on 1st January, foreign correspondents have been able to interview Beijing residents in Tiananmen Square without having to obtain prior permission. Reuters was also able to cover New Year celebrations in several Chinese cities without getting special authorisation.