News about the campaign of journalists from the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend against state censorship caused a stir in all of the world’s media. This is the first case of public outrage of Chinese media workers in the past 20 years. About 100 employees of the newspaper, based in Guangzhou (Guangdong province), went out on a two-day protest in front of the chief editors office. Ordinary Chinese people, who learned about the journalists actions through social networks, came out to support the protestors. However, the Chinese newspaper The Global Times published in English suggested that the journalists of Southern Weekend are the agents of the “treacherous” mass media that used pro-government activists in their demonstrations.
The reason for the outrage of Southern Weekend was the reworking of a New Year’s editorial that originally called for greater legal rights but ended up as a celebration of the government’s achievements. In particular, Dai Zhiyong, newspaper’s columnist in his article “Chinese Dream of Constitutionalism” used the quote from the statement of the Secretary General of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping about the increase of government institutions inspections and providing greater personal freedom. At the last moment before the article went to print it was changed…
As a reaction, journalists demanded the resignation of the provincial chief propagandist Tuo Zhen and accused him of applying “dictatorial measures” in the era of “growth of openness.” Southern Weekend is a fairly influential Chinese weekly with a circulation of 1.6 million copies, which is famous for its critical publications. In any case, the new Chinese government cannot simply ignore this incident. Many experts rightly observe that this will be a test for Mr. Xi. Moreover, the official microblog of the newspaper had information that refuted the fact that any changes were made to the New Year’s column. This later became the reason for the strike of journalists. Meanwhile, representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quoted by The Wall Street Journal, noted that there is no news censorship in China and that Chinese government strongly defends free news publication. It should be noted that in December 2012 Chinese authorities made the rules for registration of Internet users more stringent. Henceforth, Internet service providers should require users to provide personal information. Many experts consider this move as an attempt to limit freedom of Internet use by the government, which sees it as a serious political threat.
A source in China informed The Day that the situation around this scandal is changing every day and it is still too soon to foresee the consequences of the demonstrations of the Southern Weekend team, particularly if it would lead to “any change in the Chinese political system.”
“So far we have seen an unprecedented protest involving journalists and editors of both online and printed media. For the first time journalists and editors came out on the streets and very clearly criticized senior officials in charge of propaganda, who directly interfered with the daily editorial operation. They said ‘No’ to censorship, which affected the newspaper, on their microblogs under their real names (in China they use Weibo, since Twitter is blocked). Their struggle has found a wide and passionate response among online readers, some of them even came to the editor’s office to support the journalists. However, we still haven’t got a clear official statement from them and do not know whether journalists and editors will be punished. It is also not clear whether this propaganda official will be dismissed. But from this scandal it became clear that his career came to an end. He angered the state power causing huge social protest. Of course, the new administration of the country will consider him a troublemaker,” said the source.
By this moment Chinese journalists have stopped the strike. According to Financial Times, they agreed with the government on easing censorship.