Editor at liberal Chinese newspaper fired over Xi front page
Veteran journalists punished over headline combination seen as veiled criticism of president’s call for state media loyalty to the Communist Party
A senior editor of an outspoken newspaper in southern China has been sacked over the “mishandling” of a front page that contained a picture of a sea burial of a prominent reformer and a headline of President Xi Jinping’s call for loyalty from state media.
Liu Yuxia, one of the front-page editors of the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News, was fired over the front page of the February 20 Shenzhen edition which resulted “misguidance of public opinion”.
The paper’s deputy chief editor, Wang Haijun, who was on duty when the edition went to press, was given a “serious demerit”, according to a leaked internal Nanfang Media Group document, which accused the editors of seriously lacking “political sensitivity”.
Sources familiar with the matter confirmed the sacking and the existence of the leaked document to the South China Morning Post.
The front page in question featured a headline high up on the page that read: “The media run by the party and the government are a base for propaganda and must follow the surname [display complete loyalty to] of the party”. The words were a quote from a speech on news and public opinion that Xi gave at a forum last week.
Directly beneath the headline was a large photograph of the ashes of prominent reformist Yuan Geng being scattered at sea. In the top right corner of the picture was another headline: “The soul returns to the sea”.
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If the last two characters on each line of the main headline are read in conjunction with the photo headline below, the text reads: “Media following the surname of the party have their souls returned to the sea.”
The paper’s Guangzhou edition ran a photo of Xi’s visit to state broadcaster CCTV beneath the headline.
It is understood that Liu, with at least three years of experience as a front-page editor, had not received a formal notice of dismissal but was told to stop going to work.
Long-term colleagues lamented Liu’s departure, describing her as “one of the five most senior and outstanding editors in the paper”.
“She is known for her quick news judgment and swift handling of newsroom chaos such as late or sensitive copy and page cancellations,” a former colleague said. “There was not one major mishap in the past three years.”
Another source expressed anger over the sacking, saying it was wrong for front-line editorial staff to have to take the blame.
“Knowing how careful she is and the general atmosphere, this could not have been a double play of meaning in a headline. Everyone knows it would be a career suicide,” the source said.
Xi has demanded “absolute loyalty” from all state media as part of Beijing’s effort to tighten its control of the media and public opinion.
Beijing-based analyst Zhang Lifan criticised the handling of the incident, calling it an “over-reading” of the two front-page items.
“This is an issue about page layout but it turned into an anti-revolutionary slogan campaign harking back to the days of the Cultural Revolution,” Zhang said.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with the page ... The sacking of the editor ... is not fair.”
Zhang said heavy political pressure in the newsroom had prompted many media professionals to leave the industry in recent years to launch their own media platforms.