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Chinese Newspaper Defies Censors, Publishes Front-Page Call for Journalist's Release

A Guangzhou-based newspaper, the New Express [zh], published a front-page editorial statement urging the Security Bureau of Hunan Province to release their investigative reporter Chen Yongzhou who was arrested for criminal defamation. The journalist had been following a story on the allegedly shady practices of Changsha-based construction machinery company, Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science & Technology Development (Zoomlion).

The front page of New Express on October 23, 2013.

The front page of New Express on October 23, 2013.

The headline running on the front page of New Express [zh] on October 23, 2013 is “Please release our man – our paper may be small, and our bones poor in quality, but we still have a few remaining”. The meaning of “bones” in Chinese is equivalent to “guts” or “courage” in English.

According to the newspaper, Chen only made one minor mistake among his 15 investigative reports about the management of Zoomlion for exaggerating profit, tunneling interest, deforming marketing measures and suspected fraud. He mistakenly wrote “513 million Ads fee and Entertainment fee” into “513 million Ads fee” in one of the articles. Chen has been in police custody since October 18.

As the New Express’ risky statement went viral around the Chinese Internet, Chinese authorities quickly rallied its censorship forces, and the statement was quickly removed from major web portals around noon, roughly 10 hours after its release. Around the same time, Sina Weibo, China's most popular social media platform, also started deleting critical tweets.

But durings its 10-hour life on Weibo, the newspaper's courageous move won rounds and rounds of applause. The paper's statement [zh] was republished 39,486 times in a 10-hour span on Weibo, and commented on more than 14,046 comments. Shi Biao, who worked for New Express in the past, expressed his appreciation for the newspaper:

2013年10月23日,广东《新快报》头版必将载入中国新闻史,沧桑而悲壮。老东家,我以你为荣!

On 23 October 2013, the front page of New Express in Guangdong entered into Chinese journalism history. It is such a moving moment. I am proud of you, old pals.

Liu Xiangnan, also a reporter, echoed:

新快報今天的作為,必將載入新聞史册。以一個头版來為自家報館記者被抓進行抗爭,这几乎是前所未有。就為这份担当,也要向新快報致敬!接下來事件会如何演变,继续关注。

What New Express did today will become part of China's journalism history. It is the first time a newspaper defends its own journalist on the front page. Considering the consequence that it has to bear, we have to pay tribute to New Express’ courageous move. Let's pay close attention to the development.

As the incident concerns press freedom, many online news outlets shared the statement and added supporting comments in their retweet. For example, New Information Post commented:

继续关注新快报陈永洲事件。如果企业认为媒体报道有问题,可以到法院起诉。@长沙警事 也应该铭记,你们的权力是人民赋予的,请在阳光下使用,并请用好它。

Continue to pay attention to New Express’ reporter Chen Yongzhou. If the corporation found the report ungrounded, they can sue the newspaper. The Changsha police should remember, your power is given by people, use it under the sun and do not abuse it.

Another news outlet on Weibo, Shanghai Radio's program Night Talk on News, wrote:

新快报头版就记者陈永洲被跨省刑拘事件发声明——今天它毫无疑问是众多人士关注的焦点,我们关注它,不仅是因为我们是他/它的同行,我们也不是一味去愤愤不平,我们希望更加理性的去关注剖析这个事件,警方抓捕有没有违法?媒体发出这样的声音是否合适?

The front page statement regarding the criminal detention of Chen Yongzhou in New Express is today's focus. We pay attention to it not only because we are working in the same news sector, not because we are frustrated [by the incident]. We have to analyze the incident and ask if the police's actions are legal or not. And whether it is appropriate for a newspapers to issue the statement.

Popular TV program host Meng Fei's comment was among the first bunch of posts deleted by the Web censors. Meng wrote:

【新快报】事情的来龙去脉我不清楚,不便评论,说一段很多人都知道历史吧。1923年《芝加哥论坛报》因报道地方政府破产失实而遭起诉,但该州法院判决报纸无罪,理由是“宁可让一个人或报纸在报道偶尔失实时不受惩罚,也不能使全体公民因担心受惩罚而不敢批评无能和腐败的政府”。

I don't know much about the incident concerning New Express and should not comment on it directly. Let me just tell you a piece of historical information that many people already know. In 1923, the Chicago Tribune was taken to federal court for an unfounded report on the bankruptcy of the local government, and the court found the newspaper not guilty because it is better not to punish an individual or newspaper's occasional inaccurate report than to create a chilling effect and make citizens worry about being punished for criticizing an incompetent and corrupted government.

Despite heavy censorship measures, microbloggers continued to discuss the news. To avoid the charge of spreading rumors, Gong Wenxiang, a businessman in e-commerce, quoted the search results from Chinese search engine Baidu to reveal the background of Zoomlion:

今天最大的事件应该是新快报记者被跨省引起众怒,其实背后原因是中联重科的董事长,父亲是湖南省高院院长、岳父曾经是湖南省委第一书记(据百度搜索结果)

Today the big event is the the outrage over the arrest of New Express reporter. The reason behind [the arrest] is related with the background of the company. The father of the CEO of Zoomlion is the head of the Higher Court in Hunan province, the father-in-law was once the first secretary of the [Communist] Party committee in Hunan.

Current affairs commentator AfkmouUOS pointed out that the arrest is not an isolated incident – the Hunan police also detained human rights lawyer Tang Jitian for five days. He said the two incidents show that:

公权力的滥用已经到了肆无忌惮的地步,它就像一个嗜血的恶魔,在不断的寻找着猎物以满足它的巨大的胃口。中国人的命运如此不幸,但只有反抗才是唯一的出路

The abuse of power is excessive. It is like a blood-thirsty devil looking for its prey to fill up its huge stomach. Chinese people are so unfortunate and the only way out is resist.

Not everyone approved of New Express’ statement. Wang Shengyou, a member of the youth league of the Chinese Communist Party, criticized:

该报有没有公器私用的嫌疑?有法律专家称,记者被抓应该聘请律师吧?!也有一位媒体人对此说,是不是中央电视台的记者出了事,也在新闻联播里播一条抗议?那不乱套了吗?

Isn't that paper using public resources for its private interest? A legal expert pointed out that the reporter's arrest should be dealt with by a lawyer. A media worker also asked, if a reporter from China Central Television got into trouble, should CCTV protest during its news cast? Won't that result in chaos?

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