Chinese journalists punished for citing historian

New York, August 19, 2011–The demotion of a magazine president and suspension of an editor for an interview deemed critical of a Communist Party legend are the latest punitive steps taken by authorities against mainstream journalists in China, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Chen Zhong, president of the Guangzhou-based biweekly Nanfeng Chuang (Window on the South), was removed from his post, though not dismissed, and editor Zhao Lingmin was suspended during an internal meeting on Monday, international news reports said. These measures were related to Zhao’s July 25 interview with Taiwanese historian Tang Chi-hua, according to a letter the editor wrote to his colleagues that was published online by the Hong Kong University-based China Media Project.

“Punishing Chen Zhong and Zhao Lingmin for quoting a historian is absurd and a sign of the tightening restrictions on professional reporters across China this year,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Some of China’s best journalists are falling victim to the Communist Party’s sustained efforts to stamp out views it fears.”

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, citing an unnamed journalist at the magazine, said that Nanfeng Chuang‘s editorial committee under the Guangzhou Daily newspaper group took issue with Tang’s criticism of Sun Yat-sen, an early 20th-century political leader referred to as the “Father of the Nation.” The historian said Sun had been prepared to cede Chinese territory to the Japanese in return for military support against a local warlord and that the Communist Party’s historical narratives might not be factual, the Post said.

This year, CPJ has documented a number of journalists fired for reporting in China, though the dismissals are often couched as suspensions, sabbaticals, or resignations to disguise the retributive motive.

  • China Central Television’s “24 Hours” news producer Wang Qinglei was suspended earlier this month. He had reported on a July 23 train wreck, defying propaganda regulations to probe the cause of the crash.
  • Beijing-based China Economic Times investigative unit, headed by veteran muckraker Wang Keqin, was disbanded in July for reasons that remain unclear. 
  • Two Guangzhou-based journalists also lost their jobs in March: Time Weekly‘s Peng Xiaoyun for interviewing dissidents, and Southern Weekend‘s Chen Ming for writing on political reform.
  • Veteran editor and columnist Zhang Ping, who writes as “Chang Ping,” was forced to resign by Guangzhou’s Southern Media Group, which publishes Southern Weekend and other titles, for writing on political and media issues.