Bo Xilai

Beijing Daily publisher demoted over controversial editorials

Me Ninghua removed as party secretary atBeijing Daily after a series of strident commentaries, one of which was seen as challenging Hu Jintao

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 5:31am


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The publisher of an ultra-conservative Beijing newspaper has been demoted over a series of controversial editorials in recent months.

In a rare move, Mei Ninghua, 58, was demoted from party secretary at Beijing Daily to a deputy post, according to a list of personnel appointments announced on Friday. While Mei still remains publisher, the post of party secretary is the most senior at the organisation. An insider at the newspaper, who declined to be named, said Mei's demotion came only weeks after the party's mouthpiece published an article arguing that the Communist Party general secretary should not override the Central Committee.

In the provocative article, entitled "when the supreme leaders were called general secretary", concluded that "our party always emphasises and implements collective leadership. Although the general secretary is the highest leadership position in the party, it is not the highest leadership organ."

The article, written by Wang Yunsheng, an associate professor at the School of Marxist Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, was published on March 31, two weeks after the sudden dismissal of Chongqing party boss, Bo Xilai .

The article, which was taken as a challenge to the current president and party general secretary, Hu Jintao , was soon removed from the Beijing Daily website and other media.

Five days later, on April 5, the newspaper ran a pro-Hu editorial on its front page, entitled "Remember General Secretary Hu Jintao's exhortations", which was seen as an act of contrition.

However, Mei, a neo-Maoist, is well known for his leftist views in a series of commentaries that have appeared in the newspaper in recent months.

After the blind activist Chen Guangcheng fled from his illegal house arrest in Shandong province on May 4, four media outlets in Beijing - Beijing Daily, Beijing Times, Beijing Youth Daily and The Beijing News - fired broadsides at Washington's role in Chen's escape.

The most vitriolic attack came from Beijing Daily, which labelled Chen "a tool of the US to smear China" and condemned US Ambassador Gary Locke for publically escorting Chen to a hospital in Beijing.

Then, on May 14, in a move that attracted much ridicule from internet users, Beijing Daily demanded on its Sina Weibo microblog that Locke disclose his personal assets, after re-posting a microblog entry by a Beijing-based user who described Locke's behaviour as nothing more than a publicity stunt.

Mei, as head of the newspaper, was believed to have been behind the call for Locke to disclose his assets. He and the newspaper soon attracted ridicule from mainland internet users, who called on the newspaper to investigate the wealth of Mei himself and other officials.

Beijing Daily soon deleted the post about Locke, and searches for Mei's name on Sina Weibo have been blocked since then.

However, a series of editorials provoked outcry among internet users and local media. One, published on May 11, trumpeted the virtues of patriotism while condemning "people obsessed with universal values who forget about being Chinese", and whose "main duties were to smear, slander and defame all in China".

Another commentary, on May 18, blamed domestic commercial media for exposing rampant social ills such as food scandals, shoddy construction projects and corrupt officials, which, the editorial claimed, would threaten social stability and "should not be a reporting direction for responsible media".

The reshuffle hinted at Mei's demotion within the party, said Qiao Mu, an associate professor of media at Beijing Foreign Studies University, adding that "at least the authorities see the negative feedback from the paper's readers and internet users".