The International Federation of Journalists has backed a strike by 100 journalists at Beijing News following the sudden dismissal of the Editor Yang Bin who was replaced without warning last week.
The journalists walked out in an unprecedented stoppage and signed a petition for the Editor’s reinstatement. They returned to work after threats of dismissal. “This courageous and extraordinary action challenges the deeply-embedded culture of censorship that has held Chinese media back for so long,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.
The Beijing News has been at the forefront of efforts to bring a whiff of independent journalism and free speech into a country where the authorities have notoriously exercised rigorous control over information sources, including the Internet. Last year, the paper reported on violent land disputes in Hebei province, and last month, in what may have precipitated the purge, it published stories about an official cover-up of a massive oil and chemical spill in the Songhua River.
The short-lived strike, a ground-breaking event in a country where the trade union movement, like journalism itself, is subject to tight official control, will give encouragement to the movement for reform within the country, says the IFJ.
“There is no doubt that this newspaper, even though it is moderate in tone and outlook, has helped to break the traditional mould of controlled media in China,” said Aidan White. “There is a movement now for more professionalism in journalism and the IFJ will do what it can to support those who are calling for change.”
However, the IFJ fears that the attack on Beijing News signals the continuation of a more systematic crackdown on free speech and expression. In the past year intellectuals that have spoken out on social issues or the environment have been blocked from doing so in state media. And last summer editors resigned from the Economic Times citing a loss of the paper's core values and, according to an ABC News Report, last week the monthly magazine Bai Xing, whose readership is similar to that of Beijing News, was told to remove its interactive web commentary, and its investigative news department. At the same time, Internet sites have been censored or closed down.
Two journalists in prison for alleged violations of state security laws, Zhao Yan, an assistant for The New York Times, and Ching Cheong, a veteran Hong Kong reporter, are to be put on trial soon say the Chinese authorities. The IFJ and other press freedom groups have protested over their arrest. “These colleagues are guilty only of doing what comes naturally in journalism – independent and professional reporting,” said White.
The IFJ is following the situation in China closely in collaboration with its affiliates in the region, the Association of Taiwan Journalists and the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries