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Journalist faces sacking for editorial endorsing Ai Weiwei

(IFJ/IFEX) - May 19, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed to learn that a journalist at Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper in China is facing punishment after he penned a May 12 editorial that obliquely endorsed the actions of detained artist Ai Weiwei.

The IFJ has learned that Southern Metropolis management plans to sack Song Zhibiao, a commentator at the newspaper for a number of years, but the decision will not take place immediately.

"Song must be punished for writing the article about Ai Weiwei, which goes against an order by the Central Propaganda Department," a Mainland China journalist told the IFJ.

"However management will not remove him at the moment because the Tiananmen Square Massacre anniversary on June 4 is around the corner."

After the news of the imminent sacking emerged, Song has received widespread public support from his colleagues and other journalists on microblogging applications.

"The IFJ is disturbed and disappointed by the decision made to sack Song Zhibiao by Southern Metropolis management," the IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"Management has failed to protect a valued member of staff, who was simply upholding his constitutional right to free speech."

The IFJ has also learned that management is planning to close down the newspaper's online forum page in the wake of the editorial.

It is not the first time the newspaper's forum page has faced the axe. During the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and Guangzhou Asia Olympic Games in 2010, management considered closing down the page after a number of journalists wrote articles which were unpalatable to the Central and provincial propaganda departments.

The popular national newspaper published the May 12 editorial in order to mark the three-year anniversary of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and made references to a number of Ai Weiwei's artworks which delved into the tragedy and its ripple effects. The editorial was posted to the newspaper's website and to other sites for only a few hours before it was deleted, but the editorial can be read in full here http://cmp.hku.hk/2011/05/12/12235/

It is believed that the article was removed from many other Mainland China websites under a directive from the State Council Office, which has a well-equipped team that monitors online activity.

The IFJ urges the editor-in-chief of Southern Metropolis Daily, Cao Ke, to ensure that the journalist keeps his position, maintain the forum page and reinstate the May 12 editorial on its official website.

The IFJ also calls on the All-China Journalists Association to work to ensure Song's rights are upheld.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
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