02/09/2006, 00.00
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Clipping the wings of websites and portals

In the last few months, editors have been sacked and papers shut down for publishing "negative" stories about the authorities. New controls are now expected; they are intended to prevent posting political and current affairs articles published by metropolitan newspapers on their websites.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The chief editor of the Beijing-based newspaper Public Interest Times was sacked yesterday for publishing "negative stories" about the authorities amid the ongoing tightening of official control over the media. Now putting stories online from newspapers needs prior authorisation.

Chen Jieren was fired because his newspaper carried a story criticising incorrect English translations on the central government's newly launched official website, but for the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the story should not have been carried because it "negatively affected the image of the Chinese government". And so the newspaper's executives sacked Mr Chen, who was also blamed for running several other stories that upset the authorities such as an investigative story last month that said more than 50 million yuan in relief funds allocated by Beijing to flood victims in Weinan, Shaanxi province, had been held up by provincial and municipal governments.

The newspaper also carried a profile of President Hu Jintao last month violating an unwritten rule that all stories on the central leadership must be written by Xinhua.

Lat month, China Youth Daily's popular Bingdian Weekly supplement was shut down after it published an academic commentary on the Boxer Rebellion which the Publicity Department said "reversed the crimes of imperialist countries invading China".

In December, Yang Bin, the outspoken chief editor of the Beijing News, was also dismissed for publishing stories critical of the authorities.

Meanwhile, mainland internet companies are expecting new controls over their content; the new rules would prevent them from posting political and current affairs articles published by metropolitan newspapers on their websites.

"Such controls will not work because they go against the trend of economic opening-up," said a journalism professor, who was warned not to speak to foreign reporters. He described the new policy as running against the trend of the mainland's economic openness.

Many experts believe that the noose is tightening around net media because of the coverage of sensitive stories such as last year's confrontation between villagers and police in Taishi village (Guangdong)

The heat on editors and publishers is so intense that some papers like Southern Metropolis News have recently decided to cut back on coverage of news that would offend the authorities.

Stories in the Southern Metropolis News that incurred the authorities' wrath include scoops on the second SARS outbreak and the death in police custody of a Hubei graduate who campaigned  against a decades-old ban on peasants moving to large cities.

Southern Metropolis's former editor-in-chief Cheng Yizhong, who was jailed, is now free, but former executives Yu Huafeng and Li Minying remain in jail. (PB)

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