“Outspoken” newspaper prompts rare censorship uproar in China

Screenshot showing the new title, after censorship, published in Southern Weekly
 
In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, hundreds protested on Monday against censorship and in support of the newspaper ‘Southern Weekly’ (Nanfang Zhoumo), known for its reformist views and edgy reporting. The uproar kicked off late last week, when staff members discovered a New Year’s editorial calling for political reform was replaced at the last minute by an article praising the new country’s leaders. They blame the provincial propaganda chief Tuo Zhen for forcing through the change, and are calling for him to resign.
 
Photograph of protesters outside Southern Weekly’s offices in Guangzhou, Monday 7 December (@Ben663 and Twitter.com/Benfilm63)
 
Gathering outside the newspaper’s offices, the protesters waved placards with words like ‘democracy’, ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘election’ written on them. Others carried bouquets of flowers and laid them down near to the entrance.
 
Video downloaded from YouTube (Zolazhou)
Contributors

“The southern weekly has a good reputation among the readers”

Lu Haitao lives in Shanghai.
 
The original title 'Chinese dream, constitution dream' was replaced by 'We are nearer to the dream than ever before'. The staff couldn’t have written it, because there several clear mistakes. The new editorial said “we meet our readers for the 1057th time”, when it was in fact the 1507 th issue. Also, it said the Great Flood of China happened two thousand years ago [Editor’s note: it is said to have happened 4,000 years ago].
 
Screenshot showing the new, censored title published in Southern Weekly
 
It is rare to protest against censorship. Usually the protests are about environment, livelihoods, concrete things like that. This time people protest about press freedom. 90 staff members signed the strike announement. Readers, interns, scholars and former journalists also showed their support and joined the protest. Some of them demonstrated outside the newspaper's office. Southern Weekly has a good reputation among the readers. It is regarded as the most outspoken media in China.  
 
Photo montage of students holding signs reading 'Cheer up Souther Weekly' (Monday January 7)
 
Students demonstrated on their campus holding up cardboard signs to show their support. The signs said ‘Cheer up Southern Weekly’. The incident is strictly censored online, but other media still showed their support to Southern Weekly. For example, the news portal Sina used the characters of the title to compose ‘Cheer up Southern Weekly’, reading from top to bottom. 
 
Screenshot from Sina news outlet
 
“Words like 'Southern', 'Weekly' are censored on Weibo”
 
The words like 'Southern' and 'Weekly' are censored on Weibo. Searching '289', 'Guangzhou Avenue', that is the address of Southern Weekly, will not display any results.
 
On the evening of Sunday January 6th, the operator of Southern Weekly's Weibo account posted that he had to hand out the password and that he would not be responsible for the future posts [Editor’s note: he did not say precisely who he gave his password to]:  
 
Screenshot of Weibo post by operator of Southern Weekly’s Weibo. Translation:
Fengduan: I have already assisted Mao Zhe, the manager in charge of new media in Southern Weekly, to hand out the password of Southern Weekly's Weibo account. I will not be responsible for the announcement and all contents sent by the account in the future. Thank you for understanding. Wu Wei
6 Jan, 2013, 21:18:00
  
Minutes later, the Southern Weekly's official account posted an announcement, saying that the congratulations were written by their own staff, the rumours on line were not true, and the staff apologised for the mistakes in the article.
 
Screenshot of second Weibo post, sent less than three minutes later, from Southern Weekly: Translation:
To the readers: The congratulations in new year special edition on 3rd Jan, was written by our editor in accordance to the theme "seeking the dream", the cover and introduction of special edition were drafted by our person in charge, the rumours on line are not true. Since time constraints and negligence, we apologize for the mistake in the article to the readers. 
6 Jan, 2013, 21:20:42
 
And yet, staff members published two open letters online demanding a thorough investigation into the incident, restoration of the editors’ and journalists’ Weibo accounts, and the resigination of Tuo Zhen. The first letter signed by the newspaper’s journalists, and the second was signed by scholars, journalists and students. They were widely spread online
 
The authorities have not responded the incident. Many media and web portals received the notice from the propaganda department to not report it.
 
Censorship is meticulous in China: orders are usually conveyed orally, by phone, sometimes by SMS, making it difficult to collect evidence that censorship is going on.
 
 
 

Post written with France 24 journalist Claire Williams (@clairewf24)
 

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