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China 13 May 2003

Articles about SARS censored in weekly Nanfang Zhoumo

Propaganda officials in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have censored articles in the weekly paper Nanfang Zhoumo about the SARS epidemic. The paper was to have reported on 24 April that Shanghai had hidden 38 suspected cases during visits to hospitals there by World Health Organisation officials last month. The article, which said many city residents had called a special emergency number to say they were ill but then were too scared to go to hospital, was completely rewritten.

The daily South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong, said an interview in Nanfang Zhoumo with Dr Zhong Nanshan, head of the Guangzhou Respiratory Diseases Institute who was recently praised by the prime minister for his work in fighting SARS, had also been censored on grounds that it contained "state secrets." Dr Zhong had told how he had himself caught SARS last November, well before the epidemic began, and noted there was no vaccine against it. The provincial authorities reportedly said articles on SARS must confine themselves to information put out by the official news agency Xinhua or the government paper The People’s Daily.

04.09.2003 Party officials reinforce control over Guangzhou’s Southern Media group

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today condemned the state take-over of a liberal newspaper group in southern China, calling it a sign that hopes for greater press freedom with the recent switch to a new generation of national leaders were in vain.

The Communist Party propaganda department in Guangzhou reinforced its control over the Nanfang Bao Ye Ji Tuan (Southern Media Group) media group, including the liberal weekly Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekend). The move may be related to the appearance of an article in one of the group’s titles about the local outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which is a very sensitive topic in the Chinese media. The group’s papers have boldly reported on national affairs in the past few years.

Zhang Dongming, a top official of the Guangdong province Party propaganda department, was named deputy chief editor of the Southern Media group at the beginning of April and editor of Nanfang Zhoumo, with orders to tighten control over editorial content.

One of the group’s papers, Nanfang Du Shibao, had printed an appeal to the international community to investigate the SARS outbreak in the Guangzhou area. The government has forbidden the Chinese media to publish any non-official news about the spread of the disease.

At the same time, several experienced journalists left Nanfang Zhoumo to work on next month’s planned launch of a new paper in Shanghai, Dongfang Zhaobao (Eastern Morning News).

Nanfang Zhoumo has been a landmark in the Chinese media for much of the past decade. It is very popular among educated people for its in-depth reports and has often been censored. In March last year, it was forced to re-do its front page when it tried to run an article about a financial scandal involving an NGO close to the government. In June 2001, the editor was sacked after the paper investigated corruption and a serial killer.

In March this year, the weekly Ershiyi Shiji Huanqiu Baodao (The 21st Century World Herald), also part of the media group, was banned for a month for running an interview with an elderly pro-reform Communist leader, Li Rui. The paper’s senior staff, including the editor, were sacked and employees were forced to take "political education" classes.

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