With just months to go to the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Congress, the authorities are tightening their grip on the media.
Lu Fumin, the editor of the Guangzhou-based New Express Daily (新快报) was replaced by Li Yihang on the central government’s orders on July 16. The next day, Lu Yan was transferred from his post as publisher of the Shanghai-based Dongfang Zaobao (东方早报, Oriental Morning Post) at the local Communist Party’s request, while Sun Jian, its deputy editor-in-chief, was suspended.
“The CCP is steadily reinforcing its control of news and information ahead of its next congress,” Reporters Without Borders said. “As prior censorship of the state-owned media is not sufficient to prevent ‘embarrassing’ articles, the party is orchestrating a skilful game of musical chairs in order to remove overly critical and independent journalists from editorial positions.”
After 14 years as his newspaper’s editor, Lu Fumin was suddenly appointed editor of the political section of the Yangcheng Evening News. The New Express Daily’s content has meanwhile been considerably modified. Its editorial, international and national pages have been suppressed and from now on its journalists will just cover the city of Guangzhou, the Pearl River Delta, sport and leisure.
The changes come just days after the newspaper ran a feature on July 10 about five party officials who are tipped to be given senior positions in the wake of Xi Jinping’s expected takeover as general secretary at the end of the year. The report, which was removed from the newspaper’s website on July 16, was first published by Jinan Daily.
Lu Yan was transferred to another division of the Wenxin United Press Group while Dongfang Zaobao’s deputy editor-in-chief was suspended indefinitely. Journalists were quoted as saying that Yu Zhengsheng, the Community Party’s municipal secretary in Shanghai, “did not appreciate the articles that the newspaper was publishing.”
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted Dongfang Zaobao’s journalists as saying Sun Jian’s suspension may also have been the result of a post on his microblog that included a photo of the cover of the book “Conversations with Chen Xitong,” Beijing’s former mayor. Dongfang Zaobao’s employees were also ordered not to discuss the changes with anyone outside the newspaper.
The government’s efforts in recent months to tighten its control of news and information have included blocking websites, prior censorship of social networks and firing journalists who cover sensitive stories. Ever since the Bo Xilai affair, the authorities have been quick to jump on any criticism or independent reporting in order to prevent a new political scandal.