Censors sound death knell for bold paper

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2001, 12:00am

China's boldest newspaper, the Southern Weekend, has been sentenced to a slow and painful death in a move that is certain to have broad impact on newspapers around the mainland.

The Guangzhou-based weekly, known for its feisty reporting that often enraged Communist Party bosses, is being overhauled through a series of senior editorial replacements, disciplinary actions and new editorial policies, sources at newspaper headquarters said.

'This is a death sentence,' a disappointed worker said. 'They cannot shut it down but the paper as we know it will no longer exist.'

Another staff member described the action against the newspaper as a 'soft kill' and added this would be taken as a warning by other publications on the mainland. The latest round of editorial house cleaning, on the orders of the party's Propaganda Department, is expected to force Jiang Yiping out of the Southern Weekend offices.

Ms Jiang, one of the founders of the newspaper and one of its mentors, had been shunted aside in a previous purge but had continued to play a prominent role behind the scenes. The party's propaganda tsars recently forced the replacement of Qian Gang, the deputy news editor, and Chang Ping, the front-page news editor, but it was initially unclear how many more changes were planned.

Party propagandists have now removed at least a deputy editor, an assistant editor, the literary features editor and the front page news editor. 'These are key moves that will kill the spirit of the paper,' one staff member said. 'They are shutting down the internal organs one by one. This is a very dark period indeed.'

China's propaganda chiefs have recently threatened publications with instant closure if they step outside a series of new guidelines that call for reports on sensitive areas, like crime and natural disasters, to be limited to Xinhua. They have disciplined or shut down a number of smaller newspapers in recent weeks as part of a campaign to tighten control of the news media.

Party members at the Southern Weekend have been subject to disciplinary action and their cases remain open for further investigation, staff members said.

The paper has been cut to 20 pages, from 24, though it was uncertain if this policy would remain in effect. The newspaper has long been a target of censors but the April 19 edition was said to have triggered the latest action.

'The Propaganda Department had been really unhappy with the paper for about one year,' another staff member said. 'But the April 19 edition triggered the latest action.'

The edition carried three reports that had won internal awards but party propaganda officials said the issue had ignored history, spread rumours and led to social disorder. The newspaper had committed 'serious political mistakes', propaganda officials said.