HONG KONG — Dai Zigeng, the Communist Party-appointed publisher of Beijing News, resigned on Wednesday in connection with a censorship dispute centering around the newspaper Southern Weekly.
The Shanghaiist reported that the Beijing News, owned by the Nanfang Media Group (which also publishes Southern Weekly), refused a Central Propaganda Office order to republish a pro-censorship editorial printed in the Global Times.
Dai's resignation came after propaganda authorities forced the Beijing News to publish the editorial anyway.
GlobalPost Senior Correspondent in Hong Kong Ben Carlson said it's important to remember that this is not business as usual for journalists in China.
"The always-uneasy detente between editors and censors has been violated this time in a way that seems to have rattled journalists across China," he said. "What's remarkable is how editors and writers at both Southern Weekly and The Beijing News have stood up to their censors, even at the cost of their jobs."
This is the first crisis of Xi Jinping's administration, Carlson added. And how he deals with it could set the tone for reform over the next several years.
"Everyone is watching to see whether he means what he says — that China will continue to reform and open up — or if all the dramatic, orchestrated signals about Xi being a reformer are just empty pageantry."
The South China Morning Post reported that three senior editors who were present during an heated dispute between Dai and the propaganda authorities heard Dai tell his bosses, "I now verbally submit my resignation to you," in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
There is no confirmation on whether Dai's resignation was officially accepted.
The censorship dispute began on Monday, when journalists at Southern Weekly went on strike to protest Communist Party censors replacing an editorial calling for a constitutional government with a piece praising the Communist Party's accomplishments.
Editors and reporters protested what they called crude meddling by the top propaganda official in Guangdong province, which normally has a reputation for being more liberal with press freedom.
The New York Times said a tentative agreement has been reached, according to one journalist in the Southern Weekly newsroom. "The paper is coming out tomorrow, and the propaganda department is going to hold a meeting with staff about this tomorrow," the journalist, who remained anonymous, told The Times.