January 8, 2013 · 0 Comments · 154 Total Views · http://www.canindia.com/nqwei
Hundreds of people gathered outside the headquarters of a newspaper company in southern China on Monday, intensifying a battle over media censorship that poses a test of the willingness of China‘s new leadership to tolerate calls for change.
The demonstration was an outpouring of support for journalists at the relatively liberal Southern Weekend newspaper, who erupted in fury late last week over what they called overbearing interference by local propaganda officials.
At the same time, the embattled newsroom received backing on the Internet from celebrities and other prominent commentators that turned what began as a local censorship dispute into a national display of solidarity.
“Hoping for a spring in this harsh winter,” Li Bingbing, an actress, said to her 19 million followers on a microblog account. Yao Chen, an actress with more than 31 million followers, quoted Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian dissident: “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”
Disputes between media organizations and local party leaders over the limits of reporting and expressions of opinion are common in China, but they rarely emerge into public view. But this time calls to support the frustrated journalists spread quickly in Chinese online forums over the weekend, and those who showed up Monday outside the media offices in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, ran the gamut from high school and university students to retirees.
Many carried banners scrawled with slogans and white and yellow chrysanthemums, a flower that symbolizes mourning. One banner read: “Get rid of censorship. The Chinese people want freedom.” Police officers watched, but did not interfere.
The journalists at Southern Weekend have been calling for the ouster of Tuo Zhen, the top propaganda official in Guangdong province, who took up his post in May.
They blame him for overseeing a change in a New Year’s editorial that originally called for greater respect to constitutional rights under the headline of “China‘s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism.”
The editorial went through layers of changes and ultimately became one praising the direction of the current political system, in which the Communist Party continues to exercise authority over all aspects of governance.
A well-known entrepreneur, Hung Huang, said online that the actions of Tuo had “destroyed, overnight, all the credibility the country’s top leadership had labored to re-establish since the 18th Party Congress,” the November gathering in Beijing that was the climax of the leadership transition installing Xi Jinping as Communist Party chief. Xi, who is also scheduled to assume the nation’s presidency in March, has raised expectations that he might pursue a more open-minded approach to molding China‘s economic and political models during his planned decade-long tenure.
But more recently, he has said China must respect its socialist roots, which appeared to be a move to placate conservatives in the party.
One journalist for Southern Weekend said Monday night that talks between the various parties had taken place that afternoon, but there were no results to announce. “The negotiations did not go well at all,” the journalist said in a telephone interview.