Censorship Agency Launches Campaign to "Inspect" Evening Newspapers

September 27, 2005

The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) announced a nation-wide inspection of China's evening newspapers, according to a September 21 article (in Chinese) on Xinhua's Web site.

The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) announced a nation-wide inspection of China's evening newspapers, according to a September 21 article (in Chinese) on Xinhua's Web site. The report originally appeared in the China News Report, a publication of the All-China Journalists Association (ACJA). GAPP officials made the announcement at the first meeting of the "National Evening (Section) Quality Inspection Committee," which convened in Beijing on September 19. The GAPP's Periodical Bureau will supervise the inspection campaign, which will be conducted by an "internal" organization within the ACJA and will target 39 evening newspapers around China.

Wang Guoqing, deputy chief of the GAPP's Periodical Bureau, told the meeting that the GAPP intends the inspection campaign to increase its control over publishing. He said that this campaign had "strong political administration supervision overtones," and would focus on resolving issues relating to "news for compensation [journalists accepting bribes], false news, vulgarity, and harmful advertising." Wang also told the meeting that the purpose of the campaign is to improve the "quality" of evening newspapers. The ACJA article reports that the scope of the inspections would include examining the "political orientation" of the newspapers' content. Inspectors will award newspapers points, with content being the most heavily weighted category (the others are editing, design, and printing).

The newspaper inspection campaign is reminiscent of two events in the last year which demonstrated how the Chinese government and Communist Party authorities' "grading" of the press influences what Chinese citizens read. The first involved a new Regulation on the Administration of Book Quality, which became effective in March 2005. The second occurred in August 2005, when Li Datong, an editor of the China Youth Daily, criticized a proposed policy under which journalists at that newspaper would receive increased compensation for writing articles that received praise from Communist Party and government leaders.

See below for additional details on these events.

The first event occurred in March 2005, when a new Regulation on the Administration of Book Quality became effective. The regulation specified that not only are publishers forbidden from reprinting books that do not conform to government-mandated quality requirements, but authorities must also confiscate copies of such books that have already been sold. The regulation divided books into two categories: those that meet quality standards and those that do not. One of the factors in determining whether a book meets quality standards is whether or not its contents "harm the honor or the interests of China," or "disturb social order or disrupt social stability." Books with an "error rate" greater than .05 percent must be confiscated.

The second recent event illustrating how Chinese authorities "grade" the press occurred on August 15, when Chinese dissident Web sites published a letter (in Chinese) from Li Datong, a senior editor at China Youth Daily, to the paper's editor-in-chief Li Erliang complaining about a proposed appraisal system which would tie journalists' promotions and compensation to praise by Communist Party and government officials. Under the new system, reporters would receive 50 pay credits for high reader response, but between 90 and 120 pay credits for stories praised by leaders of the Communist Party's Central Propaganda Department, between 80 and 100 pay credits for stories praised by government leaders at the ministerial or provincial level, and 300 pay credits for stories praised by the senior central government leaders. One former editor of a Chinese newspaper who now lives in the United States told Radio Free Asia it was "common knowledge that official preferences were the guideline for Chinese newspapers' editorial decisions," but that by making it a guideline for evaluation, "It has almost become law." A China Youth Daily staffer told the Christian Science Monitor: "This is not only happening at our paper, it is a problem at papers everywhere in China."

The South China Morning Post reported on August 16 that authorities had issued a notice banning Web sites from running Li Datong's letter and related news. Nevertheless, after Li Datong's letter became public and the proposed system became the target of criticism in the foreign press and among Internet users in China, the leadership of the China Youth Daily (which is sponsored by the Communist Party Youth League) said it would abandon the proposed formal appraisal policy.