Southern Metropolis Daily has fired its editor and reprimanded its deputy editor-in-chief after Xi Jinping’s recent comments on state media were placed above a front page caption which could be read to give a double meaning.
The paper was reporting on the News and Public Opinion Work Conference on February 19, where Xi Jinping declared that “all news media run by the party and the government bear the surname of ‘party’.” The comments coincided with his heavily publicized visit to CCTV headquarters last month.
Underneath the headline were four characters which read “The soul returns to the sea.” If the last two characters on each line are read with the caption, they read “Media following the surname of the party have their souls returned to the sea.”
According to the SCMP, editor Liu Yuxia was fired for her “mishandling” of the paper’s front page which was published on February 20. Deputy editor Wang Haijun has also had a serious demerit placed on his record.
A leaked party document stated that Liu had “seriously lacked political sensitivity,” leading to a grave mistake on the front page. Noting that the front page had been subject to “malicious interpretation” by netizens, the document stated that the incident had resulted in a “severe case of misdirection.”
Beijing is increasingly demanding tighter control over the media, telling editors and reporters that they must pledge absolute loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and obey its leadership in “thought, politics and action.”
Last week, former social media celebrity Ren Zhiqiang lost more than 37 million followers when his Weibo account was taken down by China’s top Internet watchdog after he had posted comments critical of Xi Jinping’s directives to state media.
In December 2015, four state news agency staff members were suspended after accidentally reporting that Xi Jinping had resigned. He hadn’t.