Caijing Meets Law of Resistance (Updated)
Has the propaganda ministry applied pressure to the magazine’s owners? Have long-running internal financial squabbles come to a head? Is the magazine’s indomitable editor, Hu Shuli, maneuvering to ensure she can continue pushing the boundaries of press freedom, either at Caijing or at a new publication?
Any one of these three scenarios is plausible, and they are not mutually exclusive. As a July New Yorker profile of Hu points out, Caijing has accomplished a rare feat in China by becoming both influential and highly profitable while also reporting aggressively on stories that extend beyond business to politics and social issues, from SARS to the shoddy construction of schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake. Though they have been slapped on the wrist many times, Hu and Caijing’s investors have managed to avoid the harshest of reprisals through a combination of keen political instincts and by having the right friends in high places.
But Caijing may now be testing the Chinese media’s equivalent of Ohm’s law: The more readers, money and fame a publication accrues through muckraking, the greater official resistance becomes.
Update: Read Evan Osnos’ take on the current situation at Caijing:
I profiled Hu Shuli, the founding editor, in the magazine in July, and she struck me as determined to significantly expand the impact of her news organization. Caijing, which began as a magazine, had expanded into a conference promoter and an online news provider, and it is developing a wire service called Cai to compete with the likes of Bloomberg and Dow Jones. But that has also put her even farther out of step with China’s media mores. Caijing is a restless competitor in a sphere that operates on the principle that the media knows its own boundaries and rarely crosses them. As Caijing has grown, it has become both expensive and profitable, making it harder for everyone involved to take the risks that it could when it was just a fledgling print magazine a decade ago. There has been growing pressure from advertisers to print rosier business news, which Hu rejects, and, of course, there is the usual pressure to avoid controversial subjects. For years, she has stepped as close to those as she can without getting the place shut down. Rumors have circulated recently that senior government media officials are unhappy with Caijing’s aggressive reporting.
Also, China Daily has a surprisingly candid report on the resignations:
The mass resignations followed escalating pressure in recent months by the SEEC to rid the outspoken magazine of its widely reputable editorial independence, two inside sources told China Daily on the condition of anonymity.
“The key is, the SEEC wants to intervene and censor all of our financial stories, particularly cover stories and investigative reports. That’s unbearable (for us),” one source said.
“None of the real stories we used to run would have been OK (with the SEEC) if they stepped in,” the source said.
Hu Shuli, Caijing’s founder and editor, is also likely to leave the publication, according to both sources, who said most editorial staff will “fight on” with her and leave if she does.