The website of the Shanghai-based Dongfang Daily. (Internet photo)
One senior official has been sacked from the Dongfang Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper belonging to the Wenhui-Xinmin United Press Group based in Shanghai, while another has been suspended following an article calling for the powers of the government to be reined in, according to Duowei, a news outlet operated by overseas Chinese.
After an incident last week in which chief editor of Guangzhou's New Express Daily (Xin Kuai Bao) was replaced apparently for publishing reports on the lineup of the Communist Party's next Politburo Standing Committee, Dongfang Daily chairman Lu Yan and deputy chief editor Sun Jian have now been deposed and suspended for three months, respectively. Rumors of a purge of the newspaper's leadership circulated rapidly on social networking platforms including Sina Weibo on Tuesday.
The trigger for the sacking and suspension at the newspaper was reportedly an article published on May 15, which said private companies have the right to enter all markets and do not need permission from the authorities, according to China's constitution. "Chinese society should restrain the public power of government, which should not be hijacked by interest groups," the article said.
Other rumors said ice does not freeze three-feet thick in one day — in other words, the crackdown may have been coming for some time. In recent years, a series of reports on sensitive topics including the Wenzhou train disaster last year and problems concerning the Three Gorges Dam by the newspaper were featured prominently and were even more critical of authorities than the publications of Guangzhou's Nanfang Daily Group, which are known for pushing the boundaries of what Beijing will accept.
Dongfang Daily's peers in the Chinese media have also spoken highly of the newspaper's reporting in the past, especially its coverage of the melamine milk scandal of 2008. It may be the cumulative effect of articles deemed critical of the government that have finally prompted the authorities to take action against the newspaper's boldness.
Lu Yang has reportedly been transferred to another position within the group, while Qiu Bing, the paper's chief editor, has been left alone. The chairmanship post will be taken by Jia Yifan, the group's vice president, according to Duowei, citing a broadcaster in France. Meanwhile, the party propaganda department in Shanghai will send two inspectors to directly oversee the newspaper for the next few months.