BEIJING – A Chinese journalist known for being critical of the government said Friday that he's been fired by one of the country's most daring media companies for refusing to tone down his writing, the latest sign of China's tightening grip on press freedom.
Chang Ping, a former editor and columnist for publications owned by the Southern Media Group, said the dismissal wasn't linked to any single piece of writing but rather his consistently critical tone.
China's censors routinely scrub domestic news and online content of material they consider destabilizing or threatening to the communist leadership, but the Internet is so vast and porous that forbidden information increasingly gets through to the public. This has emboldened many Chinese journalists and publications to push the boundaries in their reporting, a trend the government is trying to contain.
Chang's employer confirmed he had been let go but wouldn't say why.
"Chang Ping's contract expired and it was not renewed," said a woman surnamed Deng who answered the phone at the Southern Metropolis Daily, one of the papers Chang used to write for. She said editors were too busy to be interviewed and that the paper had nothing more to add about the situation.
Chang, 42, drew fire from authorities and other domestic columnists in 2008 when he wrote an editorial saying that foreign media should be allowed to report firsthand on bloody ethnic riots in Tibet and advocating dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama. He's also written about corruption and China's need for greater political and personal freedoms.
Southern Media Group's two main publications, Southern Metropolis Daily and Southern Weekend, stopped publishing his commentaries six months ago, he said.
The Guangzhou-based writer said that he thought his dismissal was part of a Chinese campaign against free speech and press that has intensified since jailed democracy activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in November.
"I am very angry that I've been punished for my words," Chang said. "The bigger picture, the background is that I am not the only one. There have been other editors recently with other papers that have been dealt with as well."
He cited two recent incidents documented by the Hong Kong-based China Media Project, which keeps track of media reform trends in mainland China. The first was the firing of Long Can, a journalist with the Chengdu Commercial Daily in Sichuan who was dismissed last week after writing about official negligence and influence peddling related to the botched rescue of a group of university students in a remote scenic area. Because of mishandling, a police officer died in the rescue.
He also pointed to a separate China Media Project report about Peng Xiaoyun, an editor with Time Weekly, who was forced into involuntary leave after his publication came out with a list of influential people that included a jailed Chinese food activist and several people who had signed Charter '08, a bold call for political reform co-authored by Liu, the Nobel Prize winner.