Newspaper Editor Fired Over Front Page Double Meaning

An editor at the liberal has been fired after the paper’s Shenzhen edition paired a banner headline of President Xi Jinping’s call for state media loyalty with a lower headline on the sea burial of a prominent reformist, a combination that could be read as a veiled criticism of Xi’s media policy. South China Morning Post’s Nectar Gan and Mimi Lau report:

Liu Yuxia, editor of the Southern Metropolis News in Guangzhou, across the border from Hong Kong, was fired for her “mishandling” of the paper’s front-page published on February 20.

[…] Liu was accused in the circular of showing “a serious lack of political sensitivity” that triggered a misunderstanding of public opinion after some people interpreted the front page “in a malicious way”.

The front page in question in the ’s Shenzhen edition featured a bolded headline high up on the page that read “Media run by the party and the government is a propaganda base and must follow the surname [display complete loyalty] of the party” – a quote from a speech on news and public opinion that Xi gave during a forum last week.

Directly beneath the headline was a large photograph of the burial at sea of Yuan Geng, a prominent reformist figure, with a small headline, “The soul returns to the sea” in the picture’s top right corner.

If the last two Chinese characters on each line of the main headline are read in conjunction with the photo headline below, the text reads “Media following the surname of the party have their souls returned to the sea”. [Source]

The front page in question appeared a day after President Xi visited the headquarters of three leading state media organizations in February. The high-level media tour underscores the administration’s demand for absolute loyalty from state media outlets as Beijing continues to tighten its media and information controls. Journalists and others in the profession were reminded that the media is “surnamed Party” and must “speak for the Party’s will and protect its authority and unity.”

An online notice reportedly from the head of Southern Media Group’s Communist Party committee claims that the headline incident is a coincidence that was subjected to “malicious online interpretations.” The editors involved also denied intentional wrongdoing. At The New York Times, Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports:

“Malicious online interpretations by some people of serious mistakes by editors who have serious deficits in political sensitivity led to a serious guidance incident,” the notice read, using partyspeak for ideological error.

[…] Three journalists were punished, according to the notice. It said that Ren Tianyang, the editor in chief, had made an “in-depth apology”; his deputy, Wang Haijun, had received demerits; and Liu Yuxia, the front-page editor responsible, had been fired.

Contacted by telephone, Mr. Ren said he knew nothing about the episode. Mr. Wang said he had not seen the notice and declined to comment. Ms. Liu said she had seen the notice on WeChat, the mobile messaging platform, but had not been formally notified of any penalties.

Asked whether she had arranged those headlines deliberately to send a message, Ms. Liu said: “Of course not. I definitely had no such intention.” [Source]

For a digital image of the original Southern Metropolis Daily front page, see a post from David Bandurski at China Media Project.