Skip to main content

Chinese journalists in rare protest against censorship

By Katie Hunt and CY Xu, CNN
updated 10:49 AM EST, Mon January 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Crowds gather in support of journalists' protest
  • Move follows controversy over alleged censorship of editorial
  • Call for reform said to be re-written as tribute to Communist Party rule

(CNN) -- Crowds gathered at the headquarters of a Chinese newspaper on Monday, in support of a rare protest by journalists against alleged government censorship.

The journalists at the Southern Weekly paper, based in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, claim that an editorial calling for political reform was censored by and re-written as a tribute to Communist Party rule.

Photos published by the South China Morning Post and circulated on China's most popular microblogging site Sina Weibo showed dozens of people gathering outside the paper's headquarters, some holding posters calling for press freedom.

One journalist from Southern Media Group, which owns Southern Weekly, told CNN that colleagues joined the protest to express their outrage.

"We stand up now because we were pushed to the limit," the journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

Some journalists have threatened to strike. If it goes ahead, it would be the first time an editorial staff of a major Chinese newspaper has openly staged a strike in more than two decades, the South China Morning Post reported.

China censors NY Times after Wen story
How China's web is censored
China censors Anderson Cooper

The controversy emerged last week when a group of former Southern Weekly journalists said, in an open letter, that a local propaganda chief had dramatically altered the paper's traditional New Year message, according to a translation published by the China Media Project at Hong Kong University.

While newspapers in China are often subject to censorship, the journalists wrote in the letter that the changes were excessive, and took place after editors had signed off on the final proofs.

The letter also said that the official had introduced factual errors.

A spokesperson from the Guangdong government declined to comment on the incident.

Hundreds held in China for spreading doomsday rumors

The controversy intensified over the weekend after a second open letter signed by prominent scholars from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan called for the local propaganda official to step down.

On Sunday, Southern Weekly journalists disputed a statement released by their employer. The statement from the paper told readers that the New Year greeting was written by a staff member and the online allegations that a propaganda official had interfered in the paper's editorial were false. It also apologized for the errors in the article.

However, Wu Wei, the executive officer for the paper's new media department, said he had surrendered the password to the paper's official microblog account to the newspaper's management.

"I'm not responsible for the statement to be published on that account and whatever is published in the future," he said in a post on his personal Weibo account that was later deleted.

The furor has dented hopes that China's next president, Xi Jinping, might usher in an era of greater openness for Chinese media.

Doug Young, who teaches journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai, said that China's Propaganda Ministry was on guard as the country's new leadership prepares to take the reins later this year.

The alleged censorship at Southern Weekly also comes as Guangdong, the province where the paper is based, gets a new leader. The previous party secretary, Wang Yang, who was promoted, was seen as being tolerant toward the media, Young said.

"Whenever you have a new person coming in the tendency is always towards conservatism," said Young, whose book "The Party Line" examines the role media plays in shaping public opinion in China.

"It's a changing of the guard both in Guangdong and in Beijing."

China blocks New York Times website

Online censors deleted all comments added to Southern Weekly's statement and searches for the four characters that make up Southern Weekly's Chinese name have been blocked from Weibo searches since Friday.

However, some photos of Monday's protest outside the paper's headquarters could still be found online.

The Communist Party-backed newspaper Global Times published an editorial on Monday morning that was critical of the Southern Weekly journalists.

"In the social and political environment of today's China, the so-called free media cannot exist," it said.

"Even in Western countries, the mainstream media will not choose to openly confront the government. To do so in China, there will certainly be losers."

To express their support for the paper's journalists, some Weibo users switched their profile photo to a black-and-white image of the newspaper's logo.

This story is based on reporting from CY Xu and Zhang Dayu in Beijing and Katie Hunt in Hong Kong

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:18 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
A top retired general has confessed to taking bribes, becoming the highest-profile figure in China's military to be caught up in President Xi Jinping's war on corruption.
updated 1:07 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
A group in China escapes from a stuck elevator thanks to one man and his trusty hammer. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports.
updated 9:52 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Facebook's founder says he taught himself Mandarin and tested his skills with students in China.
updated 9:33 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
China launched an experimental spacecraft that is scheduled to orbit the moon before returning to Earth.
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Full marks for ingenuity: This was a truly high-tech scam.
updated 1:26 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
The rationale behind Confucius Institutes -- an international chain of academic centers run by an arm of the Chinese government -- is understandable.
updated 11:11 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G wants everyone to know that he's not a foreign agitator trying to defy the Chinese Communist Party.
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
updated 1:11 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
updated 11:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
updated 10:29 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
ADVERTISEMENT