The China blogosphere has been abuzz this week at the rare sight of a Chinese newspaper directly challenging senior law enforcers. Not for the first time, it has been a Guangzhou-based newspaper that has done it.
The New Express Daily published pleas on its front page both yesterday and Tuesday calling for the release of its reporter Chen Yongzhou. Chen was detained by Changsha police operating outside their jurisdiction last week after a series of his reports allegedly “damaged the business reputation” of Hunan-based construction machinery manufacturer Zoomlion, according to China Digital Times.
Yesterday’s front page contained the plea: AGAIN WE ASK FOR HIS RELEASE. A smaller headline read: “Everything must be resolved within the framework of the law. You cannot detain first and [rationalize] charges later.” A jump directs readers to page A05, where there is a lengthy story summarizing the Chen Yongzhou case — drawing on reporting from other media, including the official Xinhua News Agency and The Beijing News, according to China Media Project.
David Bandurski of China Media Project had this to say:
So far, plenty of other Chinese media have followed suit with this story. We are hearing that a strongly worded editorial from Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily was removed by propaganda authorities. The headline of that editorial apparently was: “Cross-Regional Detention Sends Chill Through Media; The Abuse of Police Powers Does Not Stand Before the Law.”
However, the Southern Metropolis Daily has managed to publish a second editorial on Page 02 today, and it has plenty to say.
The editorial argues that the Chen Yongzhou case is about a serious abuse of power by authorities in Changsha. “Even more unsettling,” the editorial says, “is if local authorities act only to serve local economic interests, if they ignore legal limitations and preventative regulations to pursue cases and arrest suspects, not only is this the ugly result of the failure to limit power, but it becomes a serious example of power doing evil.”
Then last night, as the feud continued to rage, the following directive form the Central Propaganda Department was leaked:
Regarding the trans-provincial criminal detention of a New Express journalist in Changsha, the media are not to continue reporting on the issue for the time being, and must strengthen management of official and journalists’ individual Weibo accounts.
But even if official media stop reporting on the issue, expect microbloggers to get creative in finding ways to continue discussing it.
The media in Guangzhou has long been more liberal than anywhere north of Guangdong, including Shenzhen, where the once-freewheeling media has been strictly controlled since 1989.
Examples of this freedom include the groundbreaking work of Cheng Yizhong, who was named as the laureate of the 2005 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize for his work at Southern Metropolis Daily, publishing articles revealing the SARS epidemic and a case of death in a Canton police station.
Then at the beginning of this year there was the Southern Weekly Incident, in which newsroom staff went on strike to protest against the original New Year’s special editorial being changed significantly under the pressure from the propaganda officers.