Crackdown on newspaper sends a chilling signal
The recent leadership changes at a major Shanghai newspaper sends a signal to the city's media that it must be more careful with its reporting ahead of the Communist Party's 18th national congress, when a new leadership will be unveiled.
Lu Yan was dismissed as publisher of the Oriental Morning Post, and Sun Jian was suspended as deputy editor-in-chief, on July 18.
A newspaper employee said the reshuffle was the result of a series of bold reports, including one on economist Mao Yushi , who argued that the mainland could only sustain growth if significant political reforms were enacted.
Online discussions in mainland media circles said Lu's sacking was because of an interview published on May 15 with economist Sheng Hong, who called for the state's power to be limited.
A veteran Shanghai-based journalist said the reshuffle was not linked to a particular report but was the result of senior party officials' criticism of reports that span several months. 'Shanghai's publicity department had to do something about it,' he said.
Analysts noted the restructuring came at a time when the party's propaganda chiefs were tightening controls on media across the nation to ensure a stable social environment ahead of the congress, which is expected to be held in the autumn.
'Newspapers in Shanghai will become more conservative in their reporting in the future,' the veteran journalist said. 'It is a warning to Shanghai's media that if they report on sensitive topics they will be 'handled' by the authorities, like what happened at the Oriental Morning Post.'
The reshuffle came a day after Lu Fumin , former editor-in-chief of Guangzhou's New Express, was removed and some sections of the newspaper slashed, including its editorial page.
It is not surprising that under the clampdown, mainland media have been ordered to promote the nation's 'golden 10 years' under President Hu Jintao .
On its front page on Tuesday, the Oriental Morning Post carried a report on a speech Hu gave to top party officials in Beijing, in which he said socialism with Chinese characteristics had entered a new phase over the past 10 years.
Readers and journalists in Shanghai lamented the reshuffle at the Post because they viewed it as the city's most outspoken newspaper.
Owned by the Wenhui Xinmin United Press Group, one of the largest media firms on the mainland, the Oriental Morning Post was launched in 2003 and publishes in Shanghai, Suzhou and Zhejiang .
The paper has a good reputation among readers for its coverage of breaking news, such as the high-speed train crash in Wenzhou last year and the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.
It is also well-liked by intellectuals for its articles on liberal and democratic ideas.
The paper is widely seen within the industry as having 'saved face' for the city's media, which is largely more timid and less developed than counterparts in Beijing and Guangzhou.
A Shanghai resident said he was sad to learn of the Post's reshuffle.
'If Shanghai cannot have an influential paper, how can it claim to be cosmopolitan?' he asked in a posting on Sina Weibo on July 20.
The incident has caught the attention of the International Federation of Journalists, which said it was 'deeply concerned' about the incident.
'The upcoming change in leadership within China's Politburo Standing Committee is having a chilling effect on press freedom within the country, with a heightened censorship regime swiftly censoring and punishing any independent political commentary,' the federation said on July 19.
Whether there will be long-term repercussions from the Oriental Morning Post incident for Shanghai's media after the party congress ends is unclear.
The veteran journalist said leadership changes at newspapers occurred occasionally and that there could be similar incidents in the future.