Beijing shows new signs of forcing media to toe line

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 January, 2009, 12:00am

More mainland journalists have been punished for reporting news unacceptable to authorities, pointing to renewed efforts to bring the media under control.

Guangdong propaganda authorities ordered the popular Guangzhou Television media-watch programme News Eyes to remove its outspoken chief editor and anchorman, Chen Yang, last weekend, station sources said.

The order follows punishment meted out to a Shanxi television station for coverage of a textile-factory closure.

The sources at the Guangzhou TV station said they were ordered to 'tighten news administration and reinforce positive propaganda' on Sunday and to reshuffle several programmes, including News Eyes.

Chen, who earned a reputation in Guangzhou for his sharp commentary on current affairs, was banned from any management role on the programme, possibly because of remarks he made on Saturday's show, the source said.

Responding to the vow that President Hu Jintao made in a speech commemorating the 30th anniversary of reform and opening up 'not to fix things that are not broken', Chen suggested officials not make 'unnecessary exertion but sincerely serve people in a down-to-earth way', the source said. The comments were interpreted as sarcastic.

A member of the News Eyes staff confirmed Chen had not anchored the show since Sunday but did not say why, or if he would return.

According to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Care, a news programme at Linfen Television in Shanxi, was closed down last month after preparing a piece on the bankruptcy of the Linfen Textile Factory and protests by thousands of workers. The programme did not air.

'Censors criticised the finished product for serious political mistakes, and the municipal authorities ordered [that] the programme [be] taken off air, with four editors and reporters, including anchorwoman Chen Xiaoqin , suspended from work,' the centre said.

A Linfen Television spokesman confirmed that Care had been shut down for 'various reasons'.

Mainland media outlets have been bombarded with propaganda orders this week, further signs that authorities are trying to maintain social stability this year.

At a national meeting with publicity department chiefs that ended on Monday, Communist Party propaganda chief Li Changchun said work this year should 'focus on raising efforts to influence public opinion and prepare a positive media environment'.

In this month's edition of the party's official magazine, Qiushi, Central Publicity Department director Liu Yunshan urged propaganda officials 'to grasp better the right to express the party's ideology'.

'A positive political line is always the top priority in propaganda work,' the publicity chief wrote.