Several major internet news portals in China have shown their support for journalists at the Southern Weekly newspaper – the paper at the center of anti-censorship protests this week – by adding a disclaimer to state propaganda articles.
The row over media censorship by the Chinese government began when an article in the Southern Weekly, calling for reforms to create a constitutional government, was replaced by censors with a propaganda piece praising the achievements of the Communist Party. The paper’s journalists responded with a rare display of industrial action – they went on strike. As we reported yesterday, a group of young protesters then took to the streets to support them.
Now some of the most popular online news sites in China have weighed in with their own small protest. When a government directive forced them to republish an article from the state-run Global Times, which criticized the striking journalist, these site complied – but with the inclusion of a disclaimer making it clear that they were being forced to publish the article and did not necessarily agree with its contents.
The Global Times article denied that local officials had been responsible for changes made to the Southern Weekly article. It went on to claim that activists based outside of China, such as lawyer Chen Guangcheng who is based in the United States, had been “inciting some media to engage in confrontation”.
“For media professionals, it is clear that under the reality of China’s current state of affairs, the country is unlikely to have the ‘absolutely free media’ that is dreamed of by those activists. The Southern Weekly issue will not be concluded with a surprise ending.” said the article.
Hope For Reform, But Secret Arrests Continue
The fact that police in Guangdong province decided to allow a protest on such a sensitive issue to go ahead outside the Southern Weekly newspaper offices, and that other media outlets feel bold enough to add disclaimers to government propaganda, offers a glimmer of hope that reform may be on the horizon. Newly appointed Party Leader Xi Jinping has talked the talk when it comes to reform, and these add weight to hopes that he may follow through with real media liberalisation. But don’t expect it to happen in a hurry.
As the government propaganda article mentioned above warns – people shouldn’t expect a surprise ending to protests over press censorship. The government may have allowed a certain amount of dissent, without the crackdowns which people might have expected in the past; but that doesn’t mean that they are going to back down.
As if to highlight that it is still ‘business as usual’ for the Chinese government, Reuters is reporting today on the first arrest using a controversial new law which allows for secret detention. The man in question had been calling for an investigation into the suspicious death of a political activist, and according to his lawyer he is now being held at an undisclosed location.
Protest Continues, Police Show Signs of Taking Harder Line
The protest outside the offices of he Southern Weekly continued today, and reformist activists were joined by a group of loyalist demonstrating in support of the government. A minor clash took place between the two groups, which was swiftly broken up by police.
“These people are paid agitators of the government, twisting the truth with propaganda. We had to do something about it,” said anti-censorship protester Cheng Qiubo.