- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

BEIJING — Reporters at a Beijing newspaper known for covering sensitive topics walked off the job after an editor was removed this week amid efforts to tighten press controls, employees said yesterday.

The informal strike at the Beijing News was unusual for China’s entirely state-controlled press. It reflected tensions between communist leaders and press outlets, which have pushed the limits of official tolerance in recent years, sometimes drawing punishment for aggressive reporting on corruption and other politically charged issues.

Reporters stopped filing articles Thursday after the removal of editor Yang Bin, said employees contacted by phone. Yesterday, the tabloid was 32 pages, compared with more than 80 on a normal day.

“Most of the 400 reporters and editors are unhappy about Yang Bin leaving,” said a reporter who asked not to be identified. “We don’t know how many high-level officials might leave their post.”

Employees said they didn’t know why Mr. Yang was removed. It wasn’t clear how many reporters took part in the protest or how long it might last.

A spokesman for the Beijing News denied there was any protest. “Everything here is normal,” said the spokesman, who would give only his surname, Luo.

The Beijing News is audacious even by the standards of a new wave of Chinese newspapers that compete for readers by reporting on scandals and other previously forbidden topics.

In June, it broke the story of an attack by armed men that killed six villagers who were protesting the seizure of land for a power plant near the northern city of Dingzhou.

The government arrested more than 100 people and investigated two local Communist Party officials after the report was picked up by other Chinese outlets and foreign press.

“I think the paper’s outspoken style brought it this trouble,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a lawyer who has met Mr. Yang. “The Central Propaganda Department would no longer tolerate it because of its reporting on too many sensitive and political issues, such as the Dingzhou fighting.”

The Chinese press has been given limited autonomy in an effort to reduce its need for subsidies by letting it compete commercially. Editors are expected to work within censorship guidelines on specific stories, but are free to make their own decisions on other matters.

But the government has recently tightened controls, forcing the removal of respected editors who angered officials by reporting on graft and other issues.

Mr. Yang was reassigned by the Guangming Daily Group, a party-run publisher that is part owner of his paper, according to Hong Kong press reports.

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