Chang Ping: I Am Ashamed of Self-Censorship (Updated)

Chang Ping, a columnist and senior editor of Southern Metropolis Weekly, was attacked by nationalists and praised by supporters of free speech, after he published a controversial op-ed How To Find The Truth About Lhаsa in April.

He wrote about how censorship had hindered truthful coverage of the Tibet incident in the article, urging his readers to reflect on the lack of press freedom in China, instead of pouring criticism on biases by western media.

Shortly afterwards he was labeled a “Chinese traitor” on Internet forums and called a “rumor monger” by a columnist of Beijing Evening News.

“This individual had brought free speech to an appalling or even terrifying degree”, the columnist said.

Chang Ping responded to the attacks in an article I Am Not Your Enemy, in which he said that he supports national unity and opposes violence, but he wants to be able to think independently about journalistic ideals and race relations.

Chang Ping has written a number of liberal articles commenting on various social phenomena in contemporary Chinese society. He was honored as the one of the most influential columnists in China by Southern Weekend in 2007.

His recent blog article My Cowardice And Impotence reflected on self-censorship, and his inner struggle for journalistic ideals while working for government-owned publications.

I am afraid of other people praising me as a brave newspaperman, because I know I am full of fear in my heart. I did write some commentaries on current affairs, and edited some articles that exposed the truth. I lost my job and was threatened for speaking the truth. However, to be honest, these were exceptional cases. They were my miscalculations. In my various media positions in the past decade, what I’ve practiced most is avoiding risk. Self-censorship has become part of my life. It makes me disgusted with myself.

Some of my peers are proud of their censorship skills, and like to show it off to employers. I have similar skills, and I am using them everyday. But I am deeply uncomfortable with it. I feel ashamed about it, just like an executioner knows that he is good at killing.

I could console myself by saying that I am not alone in avoiding risks. There are risks in all professions, and everybody has to know how to control it… However, the media industry is different. I participate in telling lies to the public whenever I cancel a good news story, whenever I delete a sentence of truth, if we regard the media as a public good.

I could also excuse my cowardice by saying that tens of thousands of jobs are at stake if I speak the truth. I should take responsibility for others who rely on the publication for a living… However, I have to admit that I wouldn’t have the courage to speak out, if there were not so many colleagues associated with me, or if I was required to make sacrifices to secure their jobs. How can I use others as my fig leaf and pretend to be noble?

…Compared to the importance of the media to the society, what I’ve done is very limited. I should be ashamed of taking such an important position in this industry and not doing more. I should be more ashamed when I get honors for my work.

Even if I don’t have the courage and capacity to do more than I can do now, I should at least live honestly and conscientiously, and be aware of my cowardice and impotence.

UPDATE: Chinese editor fired over Tibet commentaries by Reuters:

A renowned Chinese columnist has lost his job at a magazine over commentaries on unrest in Tibet which did not conform with the official line, a watchdog group and a source with knowledge of the dismissal said on Tuesday.

Zhang Ping, who writes under the pen name Chang Ping, was sacked as deputy chief editor of the Southern Metropolis Weekly magazine, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said.

The group said in an e-mail Zhang’s departure was “because of his editorials about Tibet”, including the controversial piece “How to find the truth about Lhasa?”

… Zhang declined to comment when reached by telephone. The source, requesting anonymity, confirmed the sacking but declined to provide further details.

UPDATE 2: See “More info on Chang Ping’s sacking” from Danwei.