About 100 reporters of the Beijing News walked out after this week’s sacking of the daily’s top editor, the latest victim of China’s strict press controls, industry sources said on Friday.
But while Communist Party officials were reasserting their hold on the feisty tabloid, nearly instantaneous Internet reporting of the dismissal and a flurry of online discussions suggested some of the limits of its control.
Internet postings decried the dismissal of Yang Bin as editor-in-chief of the Beijing News.
The paper, founded in 2003, was still published on Friday. But a list of senior editors disappeared from its second page.
Part of the tabloid’s staff showed their displeasure over Yang’s dismissal by not turning up for work on Thursday, media industry sources said.
Some reporters estimated about 100 staff had walked out. Although some later returned, on Thursday night the paper’s usually busy current affairs and arts editorial offices were quiet.
One source, who requested anonymity, said reporters were forced to show their support for a new top editor.
A petition denouncing Yang’s dismissal and the handover of controls to more conservative editors from the Beijing News’ parent newspaper, the Guangming Daily, was circulated among staff, said reporters.
A sister newspaper, the Southern Metropolis News in Guangdong province, sacked Xia Yitao as its deputy editor-in-chief this month over a headline about a vice governor receiving a demerit over a deadly coal mine accident, media industry sources said.
‘Pick a peach’
Chinese blogs and Internet chat rooms reported the Beijing News dismissal soon after reporters there heard of the decision, triggering a wave of online denunciations.
Some speculated that the Guangming Daily, which owns 51 percent of the Beijing News, used claims about editors’ “political mistakes” as a pretext for taking more direct control of the tabloid and its advertising revenues.
“The real reason is the black hands of power and self-interest are at work”, said one veteran Chinese journalist who writes a blog under the name Ten Years of Chopping Timber.
“Some people stretched out their hands to pick a peach.”
Another blogger urged readers to cancel their subscriptions. “(We) demand they immediately and unconditionally return our annual subscriptions,” said Anti, a well-known media commentator.
China’s rapidly growing Internet is heavily policed by censors and filters that block users from entering sites: many reports of the Beijing News dismissal were removed from Internet sites after an hour or two.
But China’s explosive Internet growth, with 100 million registered users, makes it difficult for even China’s vigilant censors to block news.