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Reporters at censored Guangdong paper strike
Publication Date : 08-01-2013
A bitter row between China's censors and a respected Guangdong newspaper has seen new twists, with the journalists declaring a strike.
Also, members of the public and even Chinese celebrities have rallied online and in person to support the Southern Weekend weekly after its New Year editorial was reportedly censored by Guangdong's propaganda chief.
"Lift media controls, the Chinese want freedom," read a message held up by a young man outside the paper's office yesterday in Guangzhou, as seen by pictures posted online. Protesters, estimated to be in the hundreds, also placed white or yellow chrysanthemums outside its gates to mourn the loss of media freedom.
One of China's worst media scandals in recent years, the saga erupted last week after the paper's annual New Year message, traditionally used to convey hopes for reform in China, was changed at the last minute.
A message calling for constitutional rule became one that asserted that China was closer than ever to its dream of renaissance.
Many Chinese netizens view the incident as a grave affront to media freedom in the relatively liberal Guangdong province. Some have also asked if it reflects China's new political leadership's lack of commitment to greater openness.
On Sunday night, some Southern Weekend (Nanfang Zhoumo in Mandarin) employees said they would go on strike, after complaining that provincial propaganda officials had taken over the newspaper's Sina Weibo microblog account.
"Nanfang Zhoumo's official Weibo has been lost! The declaration made can't represent the editors of Nanfang... Before this issue is resolved, I will not take on any normal editing work," wrote financial editor Zhang Hua on his Sina microblog.
His post carried more than 10 other signatures from the financial department of the paper. It is not known how many other journalists of the paper went on strike.
In China, it is not unheard of for officials to vet news reports before they are published.
But in the Southern Weekend case, many believe a line has been crossed as Guangdong chief censor Tuo Zhen was said to have interfered brazenly by penning a message put on the front page of the paper in its January 3 issue.
What made it worse was a factual error in the message, with an ancient water control project dated 2,000 years back, and not 4,000 years ago as it should be.
In support of petitions from the paper's staff, a group of scholars from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan also wrote a letter to new Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua to call for Tuo's removal.
But some say Tuo had nothing to do with the edited New Year message.
An unnamed official told Singapore's Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao last Saturday that Tuo was not directly involved and was not even in Guangdong when the incident took place.
A post on Southern Weekend's microblog on Sunday night also implied that the altered New Year message was not written by Tuo. However, the paper's journalists are saying that the posting did not reflect the truth.
The official Chinese media has kept largely quiet about the case, in line with a directive from the central propaganda authorities, noted the US-based China Digital Times, which tracks censorship in China.
Despite the gag order, some media outlets, along with bloggers and celebrities, have been subtly voicing support for the paper.
"One word of truth outweighs the world," said actress Yao Chen on her Sina microblog, quoting the late Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.