More Than Revenge Of The Baozi? (Updated)

The SCMP (subscription only) and Danwei have revealed how Beijing propaganda-meisters are purging the city’s papers in reaction to Beijing Television’s cardboard-stuffed baozi story, which allegedly was cooked up. Editors in the capital have confirmed to CDT that the Beijing Daily Messenger(Âåó‰∫¨Â®±‰πê‰ø°Êä•), originally chartered as an entertainment tabloid, got orders this week to eliminate many other new departments and go back to focusing on entertainment. The First (Á´ûÊä•), commissioned as a sports paper, was instructed to stick to sport. Of the Beijing Daily Messenger, one senior magazine editor said, “Several reporters were at the front lines at the time covering floods. All the sudden they got phone calls telling them they no longer had jobs.”

What’s less clear is the relationship between the baozi affair and the backlash it has triggered. Sources were inclined to see the case as a conveniently timed catalyst for grander schemes of control. “It’s looks like a broader effort to rein in the media, especially in Beijing ahead of the Olympics,” said the magazine editor. A party newspaper editor observed: “The cardboard bun affair is absolutely being used as an excuse to hit out at the media. The main reason at the moment is the 17th Party Congress, in late September. On-high, people are getting very tense. So one falsified report has had very heavy consequences.”

The lightweights targeted so far certainly could be considered victims of collateral damage. Notes the SCMP:

Ironically, the Beijing Daily Messenger was the only Beijing newspaper not to pursue the cardboard-buns story, even after it was picked up by Beijing and state media, including Central China Television.

Media sources speculated that the Beijing Daily Messenger bore the brunt of the media clampdown because it had always been obedient and was therefore an easy target .

“Obviously, the Beijing Daily Messenger has become the scapegoat for the bogus buns scandal because the municipal propaganda department is trying to satisfy the central government’s propaganda department,” a senior Beijing journalist said.

CDT sources say regulators are trying to pidgeonhole the mainstream news media, by holding publications more closely to their stated charters…

In another recent case, one editor pointed out, authorities told Sanlian Lifeweek (三连生活周刊) to stay clear of hard news features on penalizing it for its series of covers related to Mao-era anniversaries last year; since then the publication, registered as a culture and lifestyle magazine, has largely obliged.

Also following the baozi debacle reports say, central media authorities ordered CCTV to dump contractors and other freelance staff – some 2000 in all. CDT sources agreed the case of the “cardboard bun” was a key instigator. But they also cited an another stated motive for the staff cuts. In late June, the country passed its new Labor Contract Law, which comes into effect at the turn of 2008. CCTV, they’ve been told, has been maneuvering in recent weeks to comply. The law essentially forces employers to put contracts into writing within one month of employment, making it much trickier for them to hire temps. For an institutional work unit (‰∫ã‰∏öÂçï‰Ωç) like CCTV, which has a limited number of staff positions and thousands more working informally, full compliance would appear quite the conundrum. Of course, as the sources acknowledged, the new law could be just another excuse to clean house.


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