China Takes Control of Two More Newspapers

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia

 BEIJING, China – Two Beijing newspapers, Beijing Times and Beijing News, have been placed under the control of the Chinese Communist Party’s local propaganda department.

Two newspapers, Beijing News and Beijing Times, have come under control of the Beijing propaganda bureau (Photo Courtesy of China Media Watch).
Two newspapers, Beijing News and Beijing Times, have come under control of the Beijing propaganda bureau (Photo Courtesy of China Media Watch).

According to Qianlong, a website controlled and operated by the Chinese government, the newspapers were taken over in an attempt to control in an advertising war waged between them and to increase the influence and competitiveness of The Beijing News.

Critics; however, view the move as retribution for the outspoken and critical articles that both newpapers have become notorious for producing. One of the affected newspaper employees expressed concern at the affect the takeover will have by stating that “it means there will be so much we can’t do. Before there was news that other papers couldn’t do but we could.”

Prior to coming under the control of the Chinese government, Beijing News and Beijing Times were both overseen by the state-level Central Publicity Department which left them essentially untouched by the directives given by Beijing city authorities and thus more capable of candid reporting.

As a result both papers became well-known for consistently publishing stories, many of which other media outlets were prohibited from covering, that were critical of  local government’s around China.

Many journalists are alleging that this candid reporting is what led to the takeover. One example of the critical reporting done by the two newly censored papers was the high-speed train crash that occurred in Wenzhou in July and in which the papers harshly criticized the government’s response and poor safety standards.

In addition, Beijing News and Beijing Times both covered the controversial topic of school closures for the children of migrant workers in Beijing which has angered many human rights groups. According to a reporter at Beijing News, Beijing’s propaganda authorities had contacted the central publicity department several times to complain about what it perceived to be negative coverage.

Media analyst Wen Yunchao stated that “it’s been a headache for the Beijing propaganda authorities that they didn’t directly control the two newspapers.” According to Wen , prior to the takeover the Beijing propaganda authorities could only influence the content of the papers if they were assisted by the central publicity department but the new takeover will allow content to be controlled with greater ease.

Media experts, including Wen Yunchao, expect that the takeover will cause news content to rapidly change to alter coverage on sensitive and controversial topics in a way that will portray the Chinese government more favorably. 

Fear of increased government crackdown on dissent is further fueled by the recent discovery that Chinese authorities are considering a law that would allow individuals to be detained for up to six months without notification being given to family members.

Chinese authorities have denied allegations of a crackdown and have said that the editorial policies and senior staff would remain the same.

For more information, please see:

NDT – Propaganda Bureau Takes Over Two Beijing Newspapers – 6 September 2011

The Guardian – Propaganda Bureau Takes Control of Two Beijing Newspapers – 3 September 2011

The Diplomat – Beijing Papers Taken Over – 4 September 2011

Radio Free Asia – Newspapers Face New Controls – 4 September 2011

What Drove Chinese Workers to Commit Suicide?

By Kwangmin Ahn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Liang Chao was a farmer’s son who migrated to the city seeking a better life. He worked at Foxconn, a company widely known for producing components for Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other companies. But the 21-year-old worker was found dead on May 14 after falling from the seventh floor of a factory dormitory, according to local police. A few days after Liang’s death, another Foxconn employee died after falling from a building at the Shenzhen factory complex. In all, state-run media reports there have been 10 deaths and two failed suicide attempts over the past five months.

In Foxconn, the employees work six days a week with one day off and every day they work two hours overtime. Entry-level workers earn about 900 yuan ($132) a month at the Shenzen factory. Obviously work is tiring and there’s pressure. There are lots of rules here, for example a worker has to wear a uniform and a badge. He cannot smoke in public areas and only allowed to walk in authorised areas within the factory. A normal working day is 8am and 5.30pm but many people work till 8pm. The night shift starts at 8pm and ends at 8am. Workers don’t have much time to communicate with each other and they feel quite lonely. The salary is quite low for newcomers, the lowest in Shenzhen.

Foxconn is one of the world’s top electronics manufacturers. Of its 800,000 employees in China’s mainland, 420,000 are in Shenzen, where they work in shifts and live in the sprawling factory complex.

Both the company and Chinese authorities appear anxious to offset some of the negative attention caused by the suicides, telling Chinese newspapers to tone down their reporting of the incidents. Meanwhile, the chairman of Foxconn, Terry Gou, led media personnel on a tour of the factory and promised to do more to prevent further deaths.

Right now, there are no concrete answers as to what drove the workers to commit suicide. Foxconn insists that its workers are treated well and there could be a number of factors at play. However the company admits that “It’s true our employees basically stay at the same place 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” “We also find some young employees don’t know their roommates’ names and don’t communicate with each other.”

Foxconn said it is taking measures to improve its workers’ lives, organizing recreational activities, calling in Buddhist monks to offer spiritual consolation and setting up a 24-hour help line, but the company was overwhelmed because counselors were scarce.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Alarm over Apple factory suicides – 26 May 2010

CNN – China, company seek answers to rash of suicides– 28 May 2010

BBC – Suicide-hit Foxconn factory to increase wages– 28 May 2010

Twenty-one Miners Killed in Gas Blast at Colliery in Southwest China

By Kwangmin Ahn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China — Twenty-one miners were killed in a gas blast at a colliery in southwest China on Thursday.

There were thirty-one miners underground at the time of the blast.  Ten workers escaped to safety and all miners known to have been in the pit were accounted for, but search and rescue work was continuing in case there were other unregistered miners working at the time of the blast.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.  The mine is a small colliery run by a local township government with an annual production capacity of about 150,000 tons.

China’s vast coal mining industry is notoriously accident-prone.  Although safety conditions have improved in the last several years, China’s mining industry is by far the world’s deadliest, with accidents and blasts killing more than 2,600 coal miners last year due mainly to lax regulation, corruption, and inefficiency.

The rash of deadly mine accidents caused by poor safety standards and supervision has been traced to China’s rush for commodities to fuel its growing economy.

In March, a flood at the vast, unfinished Wangjialing mine in the northern province of Shanxi left 153 workers trapped underground, but 115 were recovered alive in a rare rescue success for the industry. The head of China’s work safety watchdog said last month that the flood “could completely have been avoided.”  The agency said managers had ignored water leaks noted by workers in the days leading up to the disaster.  A landslide of sludge triggered by the collapse of a mine dam buried a village in Xiangfen county, Shanxi province, on September 8, 2008.

Accidents are particularly common in China’s coal sector. Safety concerns are widely ignored as China tries to satisfy surging demand for the fuel — the source of about seventy percent of the country’s energy.

Recent developments in other mining cases include criminal sentencing.  On Friday, a Chinese court sentenced two policemen to up to five years in jail for taking bribes from the owner of an iron mine, where an accident killed 277 people two years ago. The Fangshan District People’s Court in Beijing sentenced Han Chunxi, 39, the former county police chief, to five years in prison for taking $5,859 in bribes from the mine owner. The court found that he had ordered his subordinates to stop inspections of the mine and abetted the use of mining explosives.

The flood in Shanxi was seen as embarrassing for the government, which has touted a reform program partly aimed at improving safety and shutting dangerous mines.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Blast rips through China coal mine – 14 May 2010

AFP – China coal mine gas blast kills 21– 13 May 2010