Chinese govt deletes article, magazine publishes rejoinder in defiance

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 09, 2016 16:26 IST
China's President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang arrive for the second plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing. (REUTERS)

A prominent Beijing-based financial magazine has highlighted the issue of censorship in China in a rare show of defiance against the Communist government after a government adviser’s interview was removed from its website.

Caixin magazine – helmed by Hu Shuli, one of China’s most well-known journalists and known for its investigative reporting – issued a bold rejoinder on its English language website this week after multi-layered censors removed the interview of the adviser who had called for freedom of speech.

The show of sharp defiance came during the meeting of China’s legislature and the government’s top advisory body, and weeks after President Xi Jinping asked media houses to swear allegiance to the Communist Party of China (CPC).

On March 3, Jiang Hong, a senior member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) or the top advisory body, wrote in the magazine that “…advisors should be free to give the Communist Party and government agencies suggestions on economic, political, cultural and societal issues”.

“However, influenced by certain events, everyone is a bit dazed and doesn’t want to talk too much,” he added in the article. “That’s what the atmosphere is like now.”

Two days later, the interview based-articled was deleted by the Cyberspace Administration of China, a government censorship organ, because it contained “illegal content”.

The magazine did not keep quiet about the removal. On Tuesday, it published an article on the English language website about the deletion, with new quotes from Jiang.

The picture of a gagged mouth accompanied the second article.

Detailing what the censors told its editors, the magazine said the administration had contended the article “violated laws and regulations”.

Talking about the deletion with Caixin media, Jiang said he found it “bewildering”.

“This is terrible and bewildering,” he told the magazine. “I examined (the article) in all respects, but I couldn’t see anything illegal.”

The government has increasingly tightened censorship controls since the new dispensation under Xi took over in November 2012. Several journalists, activists and lawyers have been punished and jailed for allegedly violating the laws of the land in the past few months.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report that one-fourth of the 199 journalists in jail at the end of the 2015 were in China.

“A quarter of those jailed globally are in China, the world’s worst offender for the second year in a row; the 49 journalists in prison there are a record for that country. As President Xi Jinping continues his crackdown on corruption and as the country’s economic growth slows and its markets become more volatile, reporting on financial issues has taken on new sensitivity,” the December report said.

Growing censorship

The Chinese government has shut down the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post’s (SCMP) microblogging accounts on the mainland, making it the latest victim of tightening censorship.

“The broadsheet’s official Sina Weibo – China’a version of Twitter - now leads to an error message that reads, ‘Sorry, there is something wrong with the account you are currently trying to access, and it is temporarily inaccessible.’ A similar error message can be seen on what used to be SCMP’s Tencent Weibo page,” the website reported.

The website added: “Over at SCMP’s official WeChat account, an empty shell is all that remains as all previous posts published on the page have been deleted.”

In December 2015, Jack Ma’s Alibaba group acquired assets of the newspaper worth $ 266 million, triggering fears about its independence as Ma is considered close to the Communist Party of China.

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