Editor fired after reports on vaccine cover-up

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 May, 2010, 12:00am

A newspaper's editor-in-chief was sacked yesterday after it published a groundbreaking series of investigative stories linking the deaths of children in Shanxi to a government vaccination campaign and subsequent cover-up.

Bao Yueyang, of the government-affiliated newspaper China Economic Times, was removed from his post yesterday. Bao was also the publisher and Communist Party chief of the Beijing-based newspaper, associated with the State Council's Development Research Centre, a top central government think tank.

He is swapping jobs with Han Lijun, the head of China Development Press, which is also controlled by the research centre. Han also becomes the paper's publisher.

The sacking was announced by an official with the research centre yesterday morning at a staff meeting, Xie Baokang, deputy chief editor of the newspaper, said. No reason has been given for Bao's removal. Industry speculation points to the story about the mishandling of children's vaccines, which was signed off by Bao and published on March 17.

The high-profile newspaper has recently been a focus of the media and the public after the story, by investigative reporter Wang Keqin , was published.

Wang's report said the Shanxi Centre for Disease Control and Prevention exposed vaccines, which should be refrigerated, to a high-temperature environment where labels were pasted on, and transported them in trucks with malfunctioning refrigeration systems between 2006 and 2008. The report implied the improperly stored vaccines were linked to the deaths of four children and illness in 74 others.

The report caused uproar in the mainland media, with many other publications and websites picking up the story. Following the public outcry, the Ministry of Health reopened an investigation but dismissed Wang's report as 'basically untrue', according to its statement.

The children's parents were not convinced by the government's finding and vowed to continue seeking the truth, according to media reports.

Bao defended Wang's report. 'To ensure that more Chinese children are kept safe, we will fight till the end,' he told his staff, according to Wang's blog. Insiders said the job-swap decision was signed on March 19, two days after the report's publication.

'Other investigative stories published in the newspaper are far less influential, and the paper has hardly published other health stories since March,' a reporter with the paper, who did not wish to be named, said.

Other editors have been sacked, transferred or demoted over censorship issues. Yang Bin, editor-in-chief of The Beijing News in 2005; Chen Jieren, editor-in-chief of the Public Interest Times in 2006; Li Erliang, editor-in-chief of the China Youth Daily in 2006; Chang Ping, deputy editor of Southern Metropolis Weekly in 2008; Xiang Xi, chief editor of Southern Weekend last year; and Liu Yuan, deputy editor of the Nanguo Morning Post last year.

Bao did not answer his mobile phone yesterday. He wrote in his Sina.com microblog: 'Worries in life come from the fact that we cannot control what will happen to us.'