Beijing newspaper caves in to government pressure after ultimatum

January 10, 2013

By ATSUSHI OKUDERA/ Correspondent

BEIJING--A Beijing daily with past ties to the Southern Weekly (Nanfang Zhoumo), the newspaper at the center of a recent censorship incident, also tried to resist government pressure, but to no avail.

After the Southern Weekly was forced to rewrite an article in its New Year's edition, the Central Committee Publicity Department instructed the Beijing News to carry an editorial that appeared in the Jan. 7 edition of the Global Times, which is affiliated with the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece.

The editorial said in part, "Any media organization in China that confronts the government will end up being the loser."

The third best-selling daily in the Chinese capital, the Beijing News began publishing in 2003 under a joint agreement with the company that publishes the Southern Weekly. But control of the Beijing News was turned over to the Beijing municipal committee propaganda department in 2011.

The propaganda department ordered the four major newspapers in the nation's capital to reprint the Global Times editorial in their Jan. 8 editions. The Beijing News was the only daily that did not comply.

According to several sources with inside information related to the Beijing News, Yan Liqiang, the deputy head of the Beijing municipal Communist Party committee propaganda department, repeatedly called the newspaper's editors on the afternoon of Jan. 8, demanding that the editorial be printed.

When the editors refused, Yan was forced to visit the newspaper's head office later that afternoon, where he met with Dai Zigeng, president of Beijing News.

"We want to decide through a democratic vote," Dai apparently told Yan.

There were about 100 reporters and editors in the newsroom at the time. When they were asked if the editorial should be carried or not, everyone opposed running it.

"We will not carry the editorial," Dai said. "If you still insist that we carry it, I will resign my post."

Some reporters said: "If the president resigns, we will also quit."

Yan left the company without hearing the answer he wanted and began ratcheting up the pressure to get the journalists to comply.

At 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 9, he called the printing plant and ordered them not to print the Beijing News if the Global Times editorial was not included.

Some people in the newsroom began posting messages about the developments on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging service. However, those messages were immediately deleted.

Reporters and editors out of the office began showing up in the newsroom in the early morning hours.

Yan finally said, "If you continue to refuse to run the editorial, we will have to disband the Beijing News."

The ultimatum worked. The editors were forced to run the editorial.

"I am overcome by a sense of loss," a reporter told a colleague around 3:30 a.m. "I cannot bring myself to continue with this work."

Another individual posted audio by cellphone of a man crying and saying: "I cannot accept what happened today. It is too painful."

While Dai has not formally resigned, he will likely be disciplined.

Still, the Beijing News did get in a few subtle licks.

The editorial was buried on Page 20, instead of Page 2 or Page 3, as is the normal practice, and the editors only ran half of the original version. Although it is also normal practice to carry the name of the editor who handled the page, no such information was included on Page 20, the only page where that took place.

The digital version of the Beijing News for Jan. 9 also could not be accessed.

"Although the official reason is a 'bug in the program,' it is an expression of their feeling that today's edition should not be shown to readers," a Beijing newspaper reporter said.

By ATSUSHI OKUDERA/ Correspondent
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Reporters for the Beijing News gather at the newsroom early on Jan. 9 after orders were given to reprint a Global Times editorial. (Captured from the Weibo microblogging service)

Reporters for the Beijing News gather at the newsroom early on Jan. 9 after orders were given to reprint a Global Times editorial. (Captured from the Weibo microblogging service)

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  • Reporters for the Beijing News gather at the newsroom early on Jan. 9 after orders were given to reprint a Global Times editorial. (Captured from the Weibo microblogging service)
  • Reporters for the Beijing News gather at the newsroom in the early hours  Jan. 9, after word spread about government pressure to run an editorial promoting the Communist Party line. (Captured from the Weibo microblogging service)

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