Freedom row at China Youth Daily
Kristine Kwok in Beijing
Reporters would be out of their minds to serve as watchdogs under new system that links pay to party praise, says editor
A veteran editor of the outspoken China Youth Daily has taken the newspaper's editor-in-chief to task for allegedly restraining editorial freedom and succumbing to party dogma.
In a high-profile move, Li Datong , who edits the Bingdian Weekly, an influential section of the paper that runs investigative stories every Wednesday, wrote an open letter to the paper's staff questioning a new appraisal system which pegs journalists' bonuses to praise by party and government leaders.
The new editor-in-chief, Li Erliang , took over in December in a reshuffle regarded as a sign of a tightening of media controls by the authorities.
The lengthy letter by Li Datong was posted on the popular chat room Yannan BBS yesterday and picked up by other chat rooms.
When contacted by the South China Morning Post, Li Datong said he had written the letter on behalf of the paper's editorial staff but declined to comment.
'This is an internal letter I wrote for the editorial department and the management. But somehow it was leaked,' he said.
The regulation, to be introduced on August 20, will provide guidelines for the rating of reporters' remuneration based on the 'credits' they receive on each article they write.
Most mainland reporters receive payments for their articles on top of their basic salaries. Some newspapers weigh the price of articles by their quality, while others go by their length.
According to Li Datong's letter, reports would gain 50 credit points for being among the top three most-read articles, while 80 credit points would be given to those praised by the secretariat of the Communist Youth League.
Stories praised by state government bodies and provincial leaders would gain 100 points, while acclaim from the Communist Party Publicity Department would be worth 120 points.
While describing the media's watchdog role as its most basic and irreplaceable function, Li Datong wrote: 'Under such an unreasonable system, would any editors and journalists who are not out of their minds do [such] stories?'
A reporter with the newspaper said management had yet to formally respond to the letter, believed to have been written last week.
'What matters the most isn't our salary, but our editorial freedom,' said the reporter, who declined to be named.
Controlled by the Communist Party Youth League, the power base of President Hu Jintao , the China Youth Daily has aggressively exposed official corruption.
It was one of the first national newspapers to run articles and editorials criticising the Shenzhen deputy party secretary in charge of propaganda, Li Yizhen , for allowing authorities to force students to watch a movie produced, directed and starring his daughter.
A source told the South China Morning Post that the authorities had released a circular yesterday banning websites from running Li Datong's letter and related news.