The management of the government news agency Xinhua has announced without any warning or prior consultation that the housing allowance of many of its staff will be cut this month. Without the full allowance, usually between 500 and 800 yuan a month, many of the agency’s journalists will be unable to pay their rent and will have to find somewhere much cheaper to live. Staff describe the cut as a further repressive measure aimed at punishing the agency’s international section for revealing confidential information about SARS at the end of April. About 500 employees are affected. Journalists at the Beijing bureau are up in arms and a petition is currently circulation within the agency asking the management to reconsider. Some journalists are reluctant to sign, fearing further reprisals. Others plan to look for another job.
State news agency staff sacked after publication of item about SARS
Reporters Without Borders protested today against the dismissal of a senior editor at the official news agency Xinhua and the head of the agency’s foreign desk for publishing a government advisory on measures taken against the SARS virus. All foreign desk staff also had their pay docked for three months.
"The item in question was put out in the interest of curbing the virus and its revelation did not in any way undermine law and order," said the organisation’s secretary-general Robert Ménard. "The reaction is part of the authorities’ attitude to SARS of right from the beginning of the epidemic trying to hush up any negative news about it."
He called on the agency’s management to reinstate the dismissed senior editor, Yang Zidi, and the foreign desk chief and to cancel the disciplinary measure against the staff.
The ruling Communist Party’s central committee and the national committee of the CPC, the country’s top advisory body, had issued a document a few days ago which Yang decided to put out on the agency’s wire. However, the original document carried a code indicating it was confidential, which Yang did not know about.
The two committees called for the editors responsible to be punished. They are expected to be given posts elsewhere in the agency.