Chinese News Editor Fired over Web Site Critique
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
The past few months have been especially rough for journalists in China who are trying to push the boundaries of censorship. The government has become so thin-skinned, they complain, that even the mildest criticism can result in losing their jobs or worse. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing on the latest casualty in the battle for press freedom.
ANTHONY KUHN reporting:
The Public Interest Times is published under the aegis of the Ministry of Civil Affairs and has a circulation of around 50,000 copies. Chen Jieren, the news department's former editor, is a compactly built man whose serious demeanor often gives way to a sly smile. At a downtown caf� frequented by journalists, Chen recalled the article that was to become the last straw for him. It wasn't a shocking expose of corruption. It was about a scholar who pointed out some grammar mistakes and bad translations on the English-language version of the Chinese government's main website, www.gov.cn.
Mr. CHEN JIEREN (Former News Editor, The Public Interest Times): (Through translator) The relevant authorities felt that our publication of this article seriously affected the government's public image, so they ordered the article removed from our paper's website.
KUHN: Yesterday the government website publicly apologized, corrected the mistakes and thanked the scholar for pointing them out. But by then, Chen had already been removed. He agreed to keep quiet about his dismissal until the paper's editor-in-chief said in interviews that Chen had been demoted for poor performance.
Mr. JIEREN: (Through Translator) He was dumping dirty water on my head in an attempt to cover-up the political nature of this incident, so I decided to go public.
KUHN: In Chen's five months on the job, he published a number of exposes that had built the paper's journalistic reputation. One revealed how local officials in Chanshe(ph) province had embezzled disaster relief funds. Another criticized a key government minister. Chen says the paper's management cited these articles as further reasons for his removal. The incident follows the firing in December of the editor of the outspoken Beijing News and the closure last month of Freezing Point, the daring and critical supplement of the official China Youth Daily. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.