What happened in Guangzhou when a graphic design student got arrested by the police for not having a temporary residence visa and dies after getting the crap beaten out of him? Why did the editor and general manager of 南方都市报 Southern Metropolis Daily come off seriously second-best for publishing the story? How many other stories from the paper pissed off corrupt local stooges in the government and what does it all mean for freedom of press in China?
This is a story that’s been going on for a while, which involved the worldwide SARS freakout at its height and the machinations of provincial and city government at its worst which I always found impossible to follow until The Washington Post published this article which brings it all together.
The party is torn about this creeping expansion of media freedoms. It believes a more assertive press can help it fight corruption and improve governance, but is afraid of losing control over an institution critical to its monopoly on power. Regular skirmishing between journalists and officials who want to suppress stories that make them look bad has threatened the party’s unity. And as journalists begin to view themselves as watchdogs for the public rather than lap dogs for the party, the government’s old methods of control are weakening.