At the beginning of 2013, the tampering of the front-page New Year’s editorial of Southern Weekly by propaganda department in Guangdong Province proved the deficiency in freedom of media in China again.
Southern Weekly is a popular newspaper devotes itself to revealing the truth for the masses, especially the ones that the Chinese Communist party wants to hide, under the strict media censorship. It has a tradition topublish a well-written article each year to serve as the New Year greeting. These articles are usually paid great attention to by the public.
On January 3, Southern Weekly published an article entitled We are Closer to the Dream Than Ever Before which is full of the praise for the Communist Party’s performance in national development.
After that, on China’s popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, the Editorial Department of Southern Weekly claimed that this article was not the one they planned to publish. The original one called China Dream, the Dream of Constitutional Government had been tampered by Guangdong’s Propaganda Chief, Zhen Tuo. Its author named Zhiyong Dai, on behalf of his colleagues, expressed a desire for the real implementation of democratic constitutional system. He appealed to the freedom of speech, especially the freedom of media.
A retired censor for Southern Weekly wrote on the Website of Democracy and Legal System:
“To cope with the media censorship run by the authority, Southern Weekly set up a critique group which is responsible for checking if content of news goes against the thoughts of Chinese authorities. The censorship has been increasingly strict in recent years. After Zhen Tuo took office, the degree of censorship reached the peak! Many prohibitions about media were carried out. Both Southern Weekly and Southern Metropolis Daily are rigorously monitored.”
As this ex-censor pointed out, the article for New Year greeting has been modified for many times. It is surprising that Guangdong’s Propaganda Department changed the concluding version when all first-line editors and reporters were on holiday.
This event led to strong dissatisfaction of the staff in the Editorial Department of Southern Weekly. As BBCChinese.com presents, the editors and journalists of Southern Weekly issued a public letter on January 4, calling for the resignation of Zhen Tuo. They accused Zhen Tuo of being foolish and autocratic. It can be considered as an unprecedented head-one confrontation between the media practitioners and Chinese authorities.
The Communist Party responded through Global Times on January 3 and 7 separately. The primary idea is: there should be a bottom line for the freedom of speech; the authority will not allow media to attack the China’s political system; media in China will not be the same as Western media, due to the special state of China.People in Mainland China, Hongkong and Taiwan attached great importance to this event. They criticised it on diversified forums and microblogging. As BBC reveals, dozens of search terms involving the Southern Weekly controversy are being filtered on Sino Weibo. Some critiques about this event have been deleted by the authority.
Article 35 of China’s constitution lays down that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” However, the practice of the Chinese authority appears to prove that it is just an empty talk at this stage.