Party still has the last word in world of media commentary
Political correctness still rules on the mainland instead of common sense.
More often than not, when liberal-leaning media find ways to get around the omnipresent censorship to speak some truth, they will be taken to task by Communist Party apologists. And they often have to pay a price for daring to defy the state propaganda apparatus.
In the past 10 days two Guangdong-based media outlets - a newspaper and an online news portal - were separately forced to make formal apologies for their challenges to the Communist Party's flagship newspapers.
The first row began when the Beijing Daily, the party's mouthpiece, fired a salvo at the burgeoning commercial news media nearly two weeks ago, blaming their exposure of rampant food-related scandals for stoking public fears about food safety.
'As a result of some media outlets' sensational coverage, it seems all Chinese food products are poisonous, all construction projects are [shoddily built] 'tofu' buildings and all civil servants are corrupt,' it said in a commentary published on May 18. It asserted critical coverage of social ills was irresponsible, appealed only to China-bashers and sceptics in the West and had severely affected social stability.
The newspaper had already encountered controversy less than a week before, when it made a poor show of attacking the United States' role in blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng's escape from illegal house detention and flight to New York.
At one point, it demanded on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo that US ambassador to China Gary Locke disclose his personal assets - something apparently meant to humiliate the diplomat, as no mainland officials have to do this.
But it had to delete the post after it found that Locke made such information public on a regular basis, as government officials in most other democracies are required to do.
The commentary was widely rebuked by mainland media, including the Xinhua Daily, a Xinhua affiliate, as turning facts upside down when the food industry, as well as government watchdogs, showed no remorse for a string of food safety scares over the past few years.
But it was a Guangzhou newspaper, The Time Weekly, that stirred up a real hornet's nest when it named and shamed the Beijing Daily's chief editor, Mei Ninghua, holding him responsible for a series of biased and ultra-leftist views.
Denouncing the Beijing Daily as a rare wonder, The Time Weekly said Mei was only good at spelling out class struggle cliches reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
Mei, also a deputy chief of the capital's propaganda department, was reportedly extremely upset and sought intervention from higher authorities. His tactic apparently worked. 'Both president and chief editor of The Time Weekly flew in from Guangzhou to offer sincere apologies to the Beijing Daily and its leaders,' the Beijing newspaper announced rather triumphantly on Wednesday. 'They admitted the article [criticising Mei] went completely against news ethics and promised to punish those responsible,' it said.
On the same day, one of China's biggest news portals, QQ.com, run by Shenzhen-based Tencent, also apologised to the nationalistic Chinese-language newspaper Global Times over an alleged misinterpretation of one of the paper's controversial editorials.
The editorial, published on Tuesday, was headlined 'Fighting corruption is a crucial battle for Chinese society', and took up the issue of the former rail minister's expulsion from the party.
But QQ.com rewrote it as 'China should allow some corruption, the public should understand'.
Global Times editor Hu Xijin insisted the paraphrasing distorted his editorial. But China Youth Daily, another state-controlled newspaper, apparently disagreed, pointing out that the tabloid's editorial focused on finding reasons to excuse corruption.
One of the most controversial parts of the editorial read: 'Corruption is still incurable in all countries around the world; the crux is how to control it within an extent that the public can tolerate.'
In a rebuttal published on Friday, China Youth Daily said such preaching of tolerance towards corruption 'could only bring calamity to the country' and was an excuse to resist political reforms.