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Chinese censors provoke media outcry
Publication Date : 06-01-2013
A clash between China's censors and two of the country's respected media outlets has cast doubts on the new central leadership's promise of greater openness.
The Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend saw its New Year message - which made the case for stronger constitutional rule in China - altered at the last minute by Guangdong's provincial propaganda chief.
The act triggered an online furore and a rare group protest by the paper's reporters calling for the resignation of the official involved, Tuo Zhen, who reportedly had the message edited to sing praises of the Communist Party.
The original article titled "China dream, the dream of constitutionalism" had argued that "only by realising rule by Constitution, effectively checking power, can citizens vocally criticise authority".
But the new version by Tuo cut all mention of the need for political reform and asserted that the Chinese people are "closer than ever" to their dream of renaissance.
"The incident over the New Year greeting has sparked anger among media circles and the public and has become the worst media scandal in recent years," said the paper's reporters in a petition last Friday, demanding that Tuo apologise and resign.
In another petition letter yesterday, the paper's editors noted that last year, censors had changed or killed 1,034 articles in the weekly, or nearly 20 articles per issue.
This comes as the authorities shut down the website of the Beijing-based pro-reform Yanhuang Chunqiu journal and microblogging accounts of several bloggers.
The journal's website editor Zhang Xiao Ou told local media the official reason given was that it failed to renew its registration. The journal's deputy director Yang Jisheng said it was told by an official of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to shut down the website last Monday. It was blocked in China from last Friday.
Known for its articles on party history and political reform, the journal could have upset the authorities with its latest commentaries, such as one suggesting that the Chinese Communist Party should draw lessons from the corruption case involving former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai and limit the power of party secretaries.
The censors' actions have sparked an uproar among netizens in China, given the respect enjoyed by both Southern Weekend and Yanhuang Chunqiu.
"Are officials not worried about leaving a bad name after they die? Do they really not care about notoriety?" a former Southern Weekend reporter Lin Chufang wrote on his microblog site.
Many observers say the incidents have put question marks over the sincerity of a call for greater media openness by top leaders like Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.
But journalism expert Zhan Jiang believes the clampdown may not necessarily have been on the orders of the new leaders. "It has nothing to do with the highest leaders but is done by officials below," he told The Sunday Times.
The controversy has created a headache for the Xi-Li leadership as well as new Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua, he added.
Meanwhile, the state-run Global Times, which usually toes the party line, has also waded into the debate. In its editorial published last Friday, the paper said Chinese media should not aspire to behave like their Western peers, given the different political realities in China.
But it also took aim at China's censors, noting that media management needs to evolve with the times. "The reality is that old media regulatory policies cannot go on as they are now. The society is progressing, and the management should evolve," it observed.