China closes youth weekly as media muzzle tightens

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The Independent Online

China's propaganda overlords have closed one of the country's most controversial and outspoken newspaper supplements in the latest sign of a crackdown on press freedom.

The influential Freezing Point, a weekly section of the China Youth Daily, which has a reputation for exposing corruption in high places and running scathingly critical opinion pieces, was ordered to shut down earlier this week as part of a campaign by President Hu Jintao's Communist government to muzzle the media.

Li Datong, the editor of Freezing Point, said he had been told to write a "self-criticism" - a style of public confession common during the Cultural Revolution - and stop publishing until the magazine's ideological "issues" had been corrected. "We have nothing to correct," Li told Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper.

Journalists and academics have been unusually outspoken in their criticism of the closure of Freezing Point and Li plans to complain formally about the propaganda department's action. The clampdown, he said, was "a step too far". Not content with ordering the closure, he added, the censors also ordered Chinese media not to report it.

China's newspapers are all under party control and dissent is not tolerated, but some outspoken editors, such as Li, have tried to push the envelope in the past few years and run critical stories.

Last year he attacked his employer over a plan to link journalists' salaries and bonuses to the amount of praise garnered from Communist officials. His complaint led to the appraisal system being scrapped. China Youth Daily, which boasts a circulation of 400,000, is the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party Youth League, which has 72 million members and is in effect Hu Jintao's power base.

A big problem for the censors was an essay by the historian Yuan Weishi, which suggested Chinese students were being "fed on wolf milk" and that Hong Kong textbooks gave better accounts of historical events such as the Opium Wars and the Boxer Uprising.

It has been a tough few weeks for freedom of information in China, with multinational internet companies, fearful of losing out on access to China's 111 million netizens, playing their part.

On Wednesday, Google announced it would bow to Beijing's demands that its Chinese website restrict access to information about controversial topics such as the Falun Gong religious movement, Tibetan independence and human rights.

Late last year, authorities removed the chief editor of the Beijing News. When the blogger Zhao Jing, better known as An Ti, wrote about the turmoil at the Beijing News, Microsoft shut the site down at the request of the Chinese government.

In April, Yahoo was accused of supplying data used as evidence to jail the Chinese journalist Shi Tao for 10 years. There are about 32 journalists and 50 "bloggers" in jail in China, including The New York Times news assistant Zhao Yan and Ching Cheong, The Straits Times correspondent accused of spying for Taiwan. This week has already seen Li Changqing, a reporter who wrote for Boxun, a US-based Chinese-language news site, put in prison for three years for spreading "alarmist information" about a dengue fever outbreak in 2004.

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