Guandong’s maverick journalists may soon be reined in

This is a scary article, coming fast on the heels of news of the brief arrest of Guandong’s Southern Metropolitan News editor for breaking a SARS story and ignoring official channels.

The Communist Party in Guangdong has appointed a new propaganda chief to rein in the province’s freewheeling media and improve Guangzhou’s image as a city beset by Sars and police brutality.

Zhu Xiaodan is the new director of the party’s provincial propaganda department, replacing Cai Dongshi, who was promoted to become deputy provincial party secretary.

Guangdong has been hit by several public relations disasters in the past year, including the Sars outbreak, the fatal beating of graphic designer Sun Zhigang at a detention centre and abuse at the Changzhou drug rehabilitation centre.

The stories were initially broken by Guangdong newspapers, including the aggressive Southern Metropolis News. The paper is said to have angered the local propaganda department by not obtaining clearance to run the controversial material.

Reports on Sun and the drug centre exposed the brutality and corruption of Guangzhou police, who have been waiting for an opportunity for revenge, according to local journalists.

Hey, you reap what you sow. The reputation of Guandong’s police did not arise in a vacuum, and is the result of lots of hard work and dedication. (I still cringe when I think of the police’s inexcusable murder of an innocent young man in Guangzhou last year.) The new propaganda minister may try to put lipstick on a pig, but I can’t imagine anyone with functioning synapses being fooled.

The article hints that this may start something of a chain reaction, bringing “early retirement” to other courageous editors and journalists in other parts of the country. And the great reforms continue….

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