China newspaper journalists stage rare strike

 

The BBC's Martin Patience said readers had been leaving flowers at the paper's offices in support

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Journalists at a major Chinese paper, Southern Weekly, have gone on strike in a rare protest against censorship.

The row was sparked last week when the paper's New Year message calling for reform was changed by propaganda officials.

Staff wrote two letters calling for the provincial propaganda chief to step down. Another row then erupted over control of the paper's microblog.

Hundreds of supporters of the paper gathered outside its office on Monday.

Some carried banners that read: "We want press freedom, constitutionalism and democracy".

"The Nanfang [Southern] Media Group is relatively willing to speak the truth in China so we need to stand up for its courage and support it now," Ao Jiayang, one of the protesters, told Reuters news agency.

Police were at the scene but "security wasn't tight", a former journalist of the Southern Media Group told BBC Chinese.

Analysis

If the Southern Weekly strike continues for any length of time, this scandal will create a major headache for China's new leader, Xi Jinping. Since he took the reins of power in Beijing, Mr Xi has generated kudos for his seemingly laid-back, open style of leadership. But the Southern Weekly uproar will force him to reveal his hand when it comes to censorship.

Will he support Tuo Zhen, the zealous propaganda chief who ignited the fracas at Southern Weekly by censoring its editorial message? The highly-popular newspaper has experienced run-ins with government censors in the past, but its stellar reputation has also allowed it to publish hard-hitting reports on a wide range of sensitive topics, from working conditions at Foxconn factories to the spread of HIV in China's rural areas.

Other major Chinese media outlets have been forced to toe the government line in recent years, leaving Southern Weekly unrivalled in its pursuit of top-level investigative journalism. If Mr Xi allows Southern Weekly's special status to be wiped away, he risks tarnishing his carefully cultivated reputation as a humble man of the people.

"They tried to ask those holding placards to show their ID cards," he said, adding that many had refused although "there wasn't much argument".

People were continuing to arrive by mid-afternoon when he left the scene, he added.

Southern Weekly is perhaps the country's most respected newspaper, known for its hard-hitting investigations and for testing the limits of freedom of speech, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing.

Chinese media are supervised by so-called propaganda departments that often change content to align it with party thinking.

'Pressure'

It is thought that this is the first time that there has been a direct showdown between newspaper staff and party officials, correspondents say.

The row erupted after a New Year message which had called for guaranteed constitutional rights was changed by censors into a piece that praised the Communist Party.

In response, the newspaper's journalists called for the Guangdong propaganda chief's resignation, accusing him of being "dictatorial" in an era of "growing openness".

In two open letters 35 prominent former staff and 50 interns at the paper demanded Tuo Zhen step down, saying the move amounted to "crude" interference.

On Sunday night, a message on the newspaper's official microblog denied the editorial was changed because of censorship, saying the "online rumours were false".

The microblog updates, said to have been issued by senior editors, sparked the strike among members of the editorial team who disagreed with the move, reports say.

Almost 100 editorial staff members have gone on strike, saying the newspaper is under pressure from authorities.

Key figures

  • Southern Weekly - weekly paper with 1.6m circulation, based in southern province of Guangdong. Seen as influential and daring, but like all China's media, it answers to the ruling Communist Party.
  • Tuo Zhen - former economics journalist who took over as Guangdong propaganda chief in 2012, prompting increasing criticism of his heavy-handed measures
  • Huang Can, Southern Weekly's acting editor in chief
  • Hu Chunhua - newly appointed Communist Party chief of Guangdong province, and touted as a future leader of China. Will be tasked with resolving the stand-off.
  • Among those signing open letters opposing Tuo Zhen's actions are prominent legal scholar He Weifang, outspoken economist Mao Yushi and prominent blogger Li Chengpeng

"Not since the time of reform and opening up and the founding of China has there been someone like Tuo Zhen," Yan Lieshan, a retired Southern Weekly editor, also told Reuters.

Searches for "Southern Weekly" on the Twitter-like weibo are being blocked, reports BBCChinese.com editor Zhuang Chen, who adds there is huge public interest in the story.

Posts deemed to contain sensitive words such as the name of the paper or Tuo Zhen are being actively deleted.

In one post on Monday, swiftly removed, a former Southern Weekly reporter asked current editor-in-chief Huang Can: "If the newspaper no longer exists, where shall we pursue our ideals?

"Naive as I was, I firmly believed that it's always better to dance with shackles than to have no right to dance."

Some influential Chinese journalists have had their social media accounts deleted in recent weeks, Agence-France Presse news agency adds.

When asked about the Southern Weekly issue at a regular press briefing last week, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said that there is "no so-called news censorship in China".

How the case is handled is seen as a key test for Chinese officials, installed just two months ago in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, observers say.

In an editorial on Friday referring to the row, the state-run newspaper Global Times said: "The reality is that old media regulatory policies cannot go on as they are now. The society is progressing, and the management should evolve."

However it also pointed out that "no matter how the Chinese media is regulated, they will never become the same as their Western counterparts".

"The only way that fits the development of Chinese media is one that can suit the country's development path," it said.

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 123.

    A Self important media reporting on the self importance of the media?

    Bear in mind that nobody has reproduced either the Chinese version or a translation of either the original "letter" or the censor approved version. All we have is an opinion from the western media.

    So where are they BBC? or do you now routinely report heresay and innuendo as fact?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 122.

    There are people here supporting the Chinese regime. This is incredible. The CCP is responsible for 80 million deaths of its own people in peace time. They to this day murder their own citizens for profit. Forced organ harvesting exists in China, look at Bloody Harvest. They torture to death innocent people who follow Truth, Compassion and Tolerance. Look at Faluninfo.net. Talking Falun Gong,

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 121.

    If there is no double standard, BBC should report opinions of major Chinese people who disgust this slapstick of a group of Southen Weekly and claim goverment to close this newspaper.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 120.

    #108 - Western Governments do not interfere in the Internal Politics of other nations. That is "Old School Games" that achieve nothing & are a favorite accusation of Dictators & their ilk
    Your out dated opinion leads one to believe you do not realize that Corporations chose to go to China for the cheap labor
    As labor costs rise & Transportation costs increase the balance is changing again

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 119.

    Censorship is denial of the peoples right to information and the freedom from repression
    I applaud the brave workers and pray for their victory against a human beings right's repression by a government that is trying to control them through deprivation of Internet access as well.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 118.

    Strange that we feel the need to compare the UK and China. Two completely different countries and cultures. There cannot be a comparsion between them as we are likely to take sides.

    We talk about freedoms in the west, that China don't have but what is freedom we talk about. We have elections that have 30% doing it and you can get by on about 30% of that to get in gov. So who gets a say.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 117.

    What the Chinese expect to come from more civil and political freedoms is not exactly what the west especially the US envision them to be. For the US it's the by now infamous 'interests'. Note that in Egypt the US initially held out for Mubarak in the face of revolution significantly because Mubarak made deals synonymous with Israel's interests. Democracy is only what the US calls ligitimate.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 116.

    "Police were at the scene but "security wasn't tight","


    It is a nothing to worry about story, the old Chinese guards like Tuo Zhen will all soon die of old age or get back stabbed and all will be fine in China.

    China wants a free press, Chinese style but at a very low cost to the country's national security unlike that of the US.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 115.

    I'm a Chinese and I'd like to show my greatest respect and admiration to the journalists of Southern Weekly and their supporters. Because of them, China has a great future.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 114.

    my dear westenrers.learn more historical and political kownledge,you poor.china just sink for nearly 200 years,before that,where's your freedom and democracy?there's no reason that makes you feel superior.also you're innocent,the lie about FREEDOM and DEMOCRACY just tools of your king,queen,and the hands behind them(twiiter,fackbook,skymedia.J E W S). think about it before you sleep,good luck!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 113.

    Chinese government should take cue from the 'West', where censorship is part of how business is done. Remember President Bush quote: "Either you are with us or against"!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 112.

    China's current political system does't make any sense and it is not sustainable. Many say that it works for China because of the unique Chinese culture and history, I am not so sure, the need for political freedom and justice is intrinsic to all of us. Sooner or later China will grow into a full democracy, let's hope the trasnsition will be a peaceful one.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 111.

    Medieval gauleiters of the world (including those in China—that place is technically part of the ever-shrinking world): For the sake of your freedom to stop news & comment reaching the eyes & the ears of the great unwashed you must unite against these troublemakers. Arrange to have them all transported to Australia. Then they’ll be with their own kind—people who want to publish the truth.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 110.

    @109

    Aint that the truth! :-)

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 109.

    @108.

    Who's the mug? Not them :)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 108.

    Well at least they left the tanks at home this time. This is a country that has systematically manipulated the capitalist system milking it for all its money while at the same time keeping up all the barriers to the west. I'm just amazed that western governments have allowed the systematic removal of their industrial base to this dictatorial undemocratic country.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 107.

    I'm really really really sad............................as chinese

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 106.

    @102.

    Yeah, China appears to be stirring. Maybe they'll start something big and end up with democracy and capitalism, then they can all live like us.

    If only they knew :( If only they knew.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 105.

    Anyone who thinks the Tory party are any different are deluded. Andy Coulson etc has meant the UK now has an international corruption score far worse than a couple of years ago.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 104.

    How great that the chinese are ,..........chinese. what do people expect?They have managed their economy better than Gordon Brown did!

 

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