By Tom Bannister and James Griffiths.
Students at Nanjing Normal University hold signs which read “Go Southern Weekly” (Image via: Beijing Cream).
Journalists and editors at the Guangdong newspaper Southern Weekend are involved in an escalating protest over state interference in their publication. The protest started when the newspapers traditional ‘New Years Greeting’ – an editorial written on a topical theme – was revised by a state propaganda official. According to angry journalists, the official greatly altered the original slant of the editorial and printed it, all without informing the newspaper staff.
The Southern Weekend (also called Southern Weekly) is known for its relative independence and outspoken journalism. According to social media reports gathered by Hong Kong University’s China Media Project, the original editorial called for constitutional reform and was written by editor Dai Zhiyong. It was titled “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism” (“中国梦，宪政梦”), playing on Xi Jinping’s much popularised phrase, the ‘China Dream’. Apparently, Dai’s original text called for too much reform because the propaganda czar tasked with censoring the piece, subsequently changed a great deal of its content. He then published it without informing Dai or his colleagues.
This was too much for the newspaper staff who are now openly protesting the actions of the propaganda official. A group of journalists and academics are demanding the resignation of the official and two letters have been issued calling for his resignation. They have been signed by several prominent local academics and newspaper editors.
The China Media Project also reports that another letter has also appeared on Weibo, apparently written by a group of local students. It is provocatively titled “Today, We Are Not Without Choices: An Independent Call from Sun Yat-sen University Students on the Southern Weekly Incident” and demands a thorough investigation into the incident; an un-censcoring of posts about the incident; and that those who have spoken out about it should not be prosecuted. The students’ letter calls for:
1. That the Party leadership in Guangdong launches a thorough investigation of the causes of the incident, and that those responsible are handled according to the law.
2. That all internet posts and Weibo posts discussing this incident that have been blocked or deleted be reinstated, “respecting the expression of every differing opinion.”
3. That no action be taken to punish anyone who has voiced their opinion over the incident.
Many of the posts about the incident have been deleted and currently a search on Weibo for ‘Southern Weekend’ (南方周末) produces no results. According to a post from a member of staff at the paper (@Yudingfeng) the newspapers Weibo site has also been taken over by state officials:
The battle officially begins, the Southern Weekend official Weibo site has been captured, and it’s administrator was forced to hand over their account details and password. Please do not believe the posts that the official Southern Weekend account now puts out. The Southern Weekend editorial department will issue a public statement later on
Southern Weekly statement that its Weibo account was taken away was retweeted 21372 times in 13 minutes. Then the statement was gone.
— Guobin Yang (@Yangguobin) January 6, 2013
The SCMP reports:
The staff later issued a statement via another microblog denying the management’s account and announced a strike. Unlike two previous open letters issued by the department, last night’s statement was signed.
“The statement [on the official microblog] does not represent the opinion of the editorial staff. It is a result of pressure applied by the authorities on the … management,” the department said. “The editorial staff will fight against the falsified statement … Until the issue is resolved, we will not do any editorial work.”
Southern Weekend journalists also wrote on their own microblogs that the Guangdong propaganda chief they accuse of altering the New Year editorial had been holding meetings with the management yesterday. They said Tuo Zhen initially agreed to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident and promised not to take revenge against the editorial department.
Other journalists are now calling for a strike or Occupy-style protest against the censorship (image via Beijing Cream):
A few days ago another pro-reform New Year’s editorial, in a liberal-minded political journal, was also censored. While most Chinese media organisations have toed the line and not reported on the ‘Southern Weekend incident’, Shaanxi-based China Business News published an editorial saying that the conflict in Guangdong “underlines a pressing issue of greater importance: it is high time to review and reform our policies regarding media control” (emphasis added).