Skip to main content

Chinese newspaper in eye of censorship storm back on sale

By Jaime A. FlorCruz, CNN
updated 7:30 PM EST, Thu January 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Southern Weekly was not widely available in Guangzhou where it is published
  • The newspaper's journalists accused officials of heavy-handed censorship
  • Protesters gathered outside the paper's offices this week demanding more press freedom
  • Thursday edition reprinted People's Daily editorial that regulation must follow times

Beijing (CNN) -- The Chinese newspaper at the center of a censorship storm hit newsstands in the capital Thursday for the first time since journalists went on strike in protest against apparent editorial interference from the government.

However, the Southern Weekly was not widely available in southern Guangdong province, where it is published.

The controversy surfaced 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, which had called for certain reforms and greater respect for constitutional rights.

Read: Chinese journalists in rare protest

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

Victor Li, a Chinese writer living in Beijing, told CNN China's new leadership would have taken a dim view of these calls by a newspaper known for pushing the boundaries.

Journalists in China stage rare protest
Fighting the great firewall
China censors NY Times after Wen story

Read: Censorship protest a test for China

"For these new bosses, what they do not need from Southern Weekly is that kind of advice! Just think about it, they have been waiting for this moment for a very long time and finally they are in charge.

"They believe they know what they should do and when to do it as well as how to do it. They do not want to be told what to do by a local newspaper!"

But soon enough, editors, reporters and their supporters protested on the Internet, on social media and in front of the office complex of the embattled media group.

Protesters carried posters calling for press freedom. Some came with flowers to "mourn the death of press freedom," while others wore facemasks to symbolize the gagging of the media.

Even celebrities voiced their support via their micro-blogging accounts.

Han Han, one of the most influential contemporary writers and bloggers in China, recently wrote on his blog post: "The Southern Weekly has informed me a lot as a reader. It gives power to the weak and hope to the hopeless. So, in its moment of weakness and desperation, I hope we can all lend them some strength, even if just a little, and help it carry on."

Chinese actor Chen Kun tweeted: "I am not that deep and don't play with words, I support the friends at Southern Weekly."

Others used more subtle language.

"Hoping for a spring in this harsh winter," posted Li Bingbing, an actress with some 19 million followers on Weibo, China's Twitter-like service.

Another actress Yao Chen, who has more than 31 million followers, used a quote from Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: "One word of truth outweighs the whole world."

The street protests, although small in scale, posed a challenge to the Chinese leaders. Twenty or so years ago, the public would not have known of the controversy if the authorities had wished to cover it up. They could simply have arrested protesters as trouble makers and shut down the newspapers. Even if it were publicly known, it would have been difficult for the embattled journalists to secure public support.

But with an estimated 400 million Internet users and some 200 million micro-bloggers, this protest gained traction.

Some media reports suggest the authorities may have reached a compromise with the protesters -- an editor may be replaced, the Guangdong propaganda chief has been absolved of responsibility, the protesters will not be harassed, and the paper will not be shut down. Though this has still to be confirmed.

Yet the fact an earlier commentary from the People's Daily, the communist party's official mouthpiece, was republished in Thursday's edition may support these reports. Tucked in a small corner of the paper, it says "it's fundamental that the party regulates the press but its method of regulation needs to be advanced and must keep pace with the times."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
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 2:54 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 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.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
updated 3:07 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT