China's Top Muckrakers Stop Digging

Why is Caijing -- long a lone outpost of daring Chinese journalism -- suddenly censoring itself?

From Foreign Policy
BY APRIL RABKIN(journalist living in Beijing)


But these days, it's not just editors who are drawing in the lines. It's the investors -- the owners and backers of China's few independent media outlets. And there is no better example than Caijing, China's leading business magazine, for which I used to work as an editor.


So when the magazine tightened the breadth of its coverage at the end of July, it was not the editorial side but the purse strings calling for caution. The source of the pressure, Caijing reporters told me, was the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, the party-led organization of businessmen that holds the magazine's publishing license. The change was passed down matter-of-factly at routine weekly meetings in July, sandwiched in along with the news budget. Many desk editors told reporters they wouldn't be running any politically controversial stories -- indefinitely.


So after years of policing themselves, how did reporters at Caijing react to their main investor's decree? With a mix of ambivalence and apathy -- always citing the move as an "internal" decision. After placing several calls to one former colleague, I had nearly given up on interviewing him. He was probably too afraid to talk, I thought, and the last thing I wanted to do was get him in trouble. But he finally explained the policy shift on the phone from a crowded bus at rush hour. "It's not a big deal!" he said, yelling over traffic noise and the intermittent, robotic voice announcing each bus stop. "It's just that somebody up top felt uncomfortable, so Caijing decided to limit reporting on politics and social issues." He guessed it could curtail 20 to 30 percent of the magazine's articles.

The reporter was not only blasé; he was relieved: "They said to take it easy, so we finally get time to relax, go on vacation." He couldn't even remember where and when he first heard of the change, but before hanging up, he reminded me not to use his name.

Already, the two most provocative columns, "Opinion Leader" and "Debate," have disappeared from the Web site. "An editor said it's just to adjust the layout, but as far as we know, it's because we need to be more cautious in what we say and what we write," a third reporter said. "It's to protect ourselves. ... If officials say [they] don't like what we say, we have to change topics. Otherwise we may have to close our business. Now we are trying to publish just financial and economic stories; no one knows for how long."


Yet to many reporters, the censorship itself seemed not up for discussion. Out of 10 editorial members I spoke with, four seemed unaware of a change. The one reporter in Shanghai who was rumored to have resigned in protest of the tightened self-censorship would neither deny nor confirm his reasons for leaving the company. "It's not appropriate to talk about," he said, asking, "Where did you get my number?" Having sworn my source to protective secrecy as well, I declined to say.

In a circle of silence, most editorial staff who were even informed of the change either cautioned me against writing about their tightened editorial constraints or said they were no big deal -- sometimes both in the same interview. Two reporters repeatedly said "self-discipline" when they meant "self-censorship." As one told me, "Caijing is a very self-disciplined media outlet."


福禄祯祥:纽约客:穿行中国新闻禁区的《财经》主编——胡舒立 8/24/2009
福禄祯祥:《财经时报》揭农行丑闻被指失实遭停刊仨月 9/27/2008


Same Old China

An activist's imprisonment is a reminder that human rights are inseparable from 'big-picture issues.'

The Washington Post
Sunday, September 6, 2009

CHINA MAKES the news these days mostly as a rising power, entwined with U.S. interests on issues ranging from America's debt to Iran's nuclear ambitions. The recently arrived U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Jon Huntsman Jr., told reporters there last week that President Obama "told him to focus on a few big-picture issues: global economy, energy and climate change," the Wall Street Journal reported.

Every now and then, though, comes a news item so stark that it reminds us that China is something else as well: a one-party dictatorship determined to stomp on any shoots of political freedom. Such an item came, also last week, with the sentencing of Xie Changfa to 13 years in prison. Mr. Xie, who lives in Hunan province, was one of the many swept up by Chinese security forces ahead of the Beijing Olympics last summer; when the world moved on, he remained in jail. He had not committed, nor has he been accused of, any acts of violence. Rather, his "crime" was to help establish the Hunan Preparatory Committee of the Chinese Democracy Party. According to the nonprofit organization Human Rights in China, Mr. Xie's lawyer argued that China's constitution protects the right to organize a political party or assembly. Nonetheless, he was convicted of "illegally setting up a party in the long term" and "soliciting and inciting others to attack, denigrate, and overturn state power and the socialist system."

We cannot report Mr. Xie's reaction to the sentence. According to his brother -- who also was arrested last summer but who was subsequently released and permitted to attend the court proceeding -- Mr. Xie "was handcuffed for 30 minutes during the announcement of the decision. He did not have the opportunity to speak and looked haggard." No wonder: Mr. Xie is 57 years old and will be in prison until he is 70 if he serves his full sentence.

Mr. Huntsman said, thankfully, that human rights also will be on his agenda, and we hope that he raises the injustice of Mr. Xie's confinement. But human rights can't be treated simply as one item in a basket of issues. The nature of the Chinese regime -- its repressiveness and paranoia about threats from its own people -- inevitably affects how it behaves with regard to those issues cited by Mr. Obama and every other matter important to U.S.-China relations, including its attitude toward other dictatorships such as Burma and North Korea. You can't understand the regime in Beijing without understanding why it would lock away a peaceful, haggard and courageous 57-year-old in far-off Hunan province.