By providing this type of audacious coverage under huge pressure,
Jian has come to be perceived by many as the "conscience of China." This
symbolic layer to Jian's reputation makes his departure rather
heartbreaking to many, and has provoked deep pessimism about the future
of China's news media.
Jian's resigning is just one of several "personnel earthquakes" that
have struck the Oriental Daily in 2012. Founded in 2003, the newspaper
has built up a reputation as one of the most important independent,
liberal media brands in China, largely through its in-depth
investigative coverage and outspoken editorials. This reputation also
makes it among the most vulnerable to government censorship.
On July 18, the publication's president and vice editor-in-chief were
dismissed for unspecified reasons. Some rumors said the direct cause
might be the Daily's interview with Sheng Hong (@盛洪微博),
president of Tianze Economics Institute, which was published in May. In
the interview, Prof. Sheng acutely criticized the monopoly of
state-owned companies in certain markets.
The misfortune has also befallen other media brands. On July 16, the editor-in-chief of the News Express Daily (@新快报) was forced to resign because of unspecified "sensitive" contents it had published. On August 23, the Oriental Vanguard (@东方卫报) published on its front page a feature article titled "Liu Xiang knew, officials knew, China Central Television knew, only the audience was waiting vainly for the legendary moment."
The article said that official heads of the Chinese Olympic Team, China
Central Television (CCTV) and Liu Xiang himself had all known
beforehand that his severe injury might render him unable to finish the
preliminary heats of the Olympic Men's 110-meter Hurdles, and CCTV had
prepared four commentating plans accordingly. The report caused the
editor-in-chief, the assistant editor-in-chief and the so-called "news
supervisors" (新闻总监) to be dismissed.
Although the government's control over news media has always been
tight, the range and intensity of the purge this year has been rarely
seen, suggesting that the censors' controlling hand is tightening. As
Wang Keqin (@王克勤), a former investigative journalist famous for his coverage of AIDS spread and illegal mining plants, comments, "It's getting colder. The winter is approaching."
Wang's comment is especially profound considering that earlier this
year, many claimed that "the spring of Chinese media" was coming after
the state-owned, usually conservative People's Daily (@人民日报)
published a series of op-eds calling for political reforms, widely read
as a hint that China's news-control bureaus were liberalizing. However,
this interpretation proved too optimistic, with purges beginning in
The strange dichotomy between the liberalization of official media
and the increasing oppression of independent media can also be found in
social media. On one hand, the Weibo account of the Party mouthpiece
People's Daily has shown a degree of humanity and independence that has pleasantly surprised netizens, and the account of Xinhua News Agency (@新华社中国网事) bravely challenged military authority when it reported on a military officer beating a flight attendant. On the other, journalists in independent media are being deprived of freedom of expression. @新闻已死
provides the evidence: "I hear that all the professionals working for
the Nanfang Daily are required to report their Weibo accounts, even the
passwords, to their superior."