Censorship in China

Tuo Zhen, crusading journalist turned Guangdong propagandist

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 2:19pm

Guangdong's propaganda chief, under fire for altering the New Year edition of the outspoken Southern Weekly, was once a crusading journalist known for his reports on the plight of the poor and deprived.

However, as Tuo Zhen moved up to become a top media executive and propaganda official, he was increasingly seen as a hardline censor and attracted widespread criticism from journalists.

Tuo, 52, started his career as a reporter at the Economic Daily in 1982, and went on to become the newspaper's chief editor in 2005. In 2011, he was made a vice-president of Xinhua, and he moved to Guangdong in May last year.

He gained early fame for an award-winning story he wrote in 1983 about an engineer who lived in a dilapidated home and worked for a boss who owned four apartments.

Tuo was named one of China's 10 most outstanding young people in 1993 and was made a senior reporter for the Economic Daily in 1994.

During his time at the newspaper, Tuo was involved in a series of reports on reforms launched in Tongling , Anhui province, when former Guangdong Communist Party chief Wang Yang was the city's mayor.

He once said the fairness and objectivity of journalists should not be challenged, and the trust bestowed upon journalists by ordinary citizens should be a strong motivation.

But journalists and people in media circles said Tuo had become a conservative and had tightened his grip on the media as he rose through the ranks.

A letter issued by former staff at the Southern Weekly said Tuo turned the Economic Daily from a newspaper with good prospects into a silent nonentity.

When he moved to Xinhua, publications under the news agency refrained from outspoken commentary. Xiao Shu , a former journalist at the Southern Weekly, said Tuo had asked that stories be removed from Xinhua-affiliated publications.

The authorities are widely believed to have tightened their grip on the Nanfang Daily Media Group, which publishes the Southern Weekend, since May, when Tuo moved to Guangdong, and Yang Jian , a former provincial propaganda chief, was made group party secretary.

"I got a sarcastic mobile text message from a friend saying 'congratulations' when the appointments were made," a journalist at Southern Weekend said.