New York, July 22, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the recent termination of a Chinese journalist from a monthly magazine after he wrote for a Hong Kong website. Song Zhibiao’s dismissal marks the first publicized case of its kind following recent directives by the Chinese government that bar journalists from cooperating with foreign news agencies, according to The New York Times.
On Friday, Song was dismissed from China Fortune, a monthly magazine owned by Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, The New York Times reported. The magazine’s editor-in-chief told Song that local propaganda officials ordered his dismissal on the grounds that he violated the government’s new restriction by writing commentaries for a news website belonging to the Hong Kong-based Oriental Press Group, the Times report said. Hong Kong media are considered overseas news outlets by Chinese authorities, the report said.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to do their work in China,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “Song Zhibiao’s termination presents a worrisome scenario for any journalist wishing to have a voice to the outside world through international media. Already, the government is stifling local journalists in traditional and online spaces. Now they are attempting to exert control over journalists in international spaces as well.”
Song’s dismissal comes amid a series of restrictions enacted by Chinese authorities in recent months. On June 30, authorities issued an order barring journalists from sharing any information they obtained in the course of their work relating to state secrets with foreign or domestic news agencies. The directive followed an announcement in April 2013 that forbids Chinese media outlets from publishing online any news without government permission. Authorities in July 2014 also said journalists were required to sign a secrecy agreement with their employers in order to obtain press credentials, reports said.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists reported that Song’s article, published on July 16, discussed an outcry in southern Guangdong province following attempts by provincial authorities to force local TV stations to broadcast news in Mandarin instead of the regional language.
In 2011, the Southern Metropolis Daily disciplined Song following a commemorative editorial he wrote on the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The editorial referred to detained artist Ai Weiwei, who documented the plight of the earthquake victims in his work, reports said. Song was not fired, but “side-shuffled” from his post. Internal transfers or demotions are a common punishment for outspoken journalists, according to CPJ research.