Supporters turn out to back striking Chinese journalists
Hundreds gathered in southern China yesterday to support journalists at the Southern Weekend newspaper who staged a dramatic strike yesterday to protest against heavy-handed censorship by a local propaganda czar.
Southern Weekend is probably the most liberal of Chinese titles and the editorial staffers were protesting against heavyhanded censorship by a local propaganda chief.
Photographs on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of the banned Twitter, showed people with banners saying: “End press censorship. The Chinese people want freedom.” They also carried chrysanthemums, the traditional Chinese flower of mourning.
It is the first time in more than two decades that the editorial staff of a major newspaper has openly staged a strike against government censorship.
What makes this protest more politically significant is that the protesters were calling for constitutionalism and political reform, rather than simply focusing on the environment, land grabs or other local issues.
The rare strike action came after the newspaper management took over the department’s official microblog account and changed a new year’s editorial calling for political reform and a strong constitution.
A key demand is the resignation of Tuo Zhen, the propaganda cadre who is believed to have doctored the editorial and replaced it with a vapid tribute praising the ruling Communist Party.
The government generally comes down hard on such political expression.
However, protesters in Guangzhou were mostly middle class, educated young people, a key plank of support for the ruling Communist Party and the government is unlikely to respond harshly.
Chinese journalists are strongly censored in what they can produce. Regular diktats are sent down from the propaganda bureaux, at regional level and from the central government.
Dealing with sensitive issues is a bureaucratic nightmare as well as an editing headache, as news has to be processed through many official channels.