China Journalists On Strike Over Censorship

China Journalists On Strike Over Censorship

More than 100 journalists at one of China's most respected newspapers have gone on strike in a rare protest against censorship.

The staff at Southern Weekend, based in the southern city of Guangzhou, walked out after a New Year editorial article written by them was altered on the orders of the Communist Party's local propaganda boss.

The workers accuse Tuo Zhen, Guangdong's provincial propaganda chief, of having their words changed into a message of praise for China's Communist Party.

The original article, which was an end-of-year editorial, was titled "China's Dream: the dream of constitutionalism". According to those who saw the original piece, it had argued that "only by realising rule by constitution, effectively checking power, can citizens vocally criticise authority".

However, the article which appeared in the paper was markedly different. There was no mention of political reform within it and it claimed that the people of China are "closer than ever to their dream of renaissance".

It is understood the staff decided to strike after a disagreement over who controls the newspaper's micro-blogging account. A statement had been issued on the account denying that the editorial had been altered.

Outside the newspaper's offices, protesters held hand-written signs that said "freedom of expression is not a crime" and "Chinese people want freedom".

The journalists' stand has attracted huge support on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, despite attempts by the authorities to block any mention of the story. Sky News staff in Beijing monitoring the Weibo website watched posts which mentioned the story being deleted by the censors as quickly as they appeared.

Among the posts seen by Sky News were some by prominent Chinese journalists in support of their striking colleagues.

Columnist Li Qing compared China's undemocratic rise with the introduction of democracy in neighbouring Burma.

Mr Li wrote: "Imagine when you standing in front of a small country like Burma and speak to him arrogantly: 'I have the tallest building in Asia, do you have it?' He shakes his head; you say: 'I have the aircraft carrier, do you have it?' He shakes again. When you are thinking what to say the next, he suddenly asks: 'I have the newspaper with freedom, do you have it?' Then how undignified you would be?!"

Magazine editor Lin Tianhong posted: "All these years, all of us, our articles were killed, our mouth was forced to shut, we were forced to keep silent. So we started to get used to it, start to confirm ourselves, start to get familiar with the borders and lines between brightness and darkness, start to self-inspect, just like the frogs being cooked in warm water …

"Then we went too far, seem to have forgotten why we entered this business at the first place. Why do we protect our colleagues in Southern Weekly? For me, just one sentence, life is short, how can we forget who we originally are?!"

Predictably, news of the row and the strike is not being covered on any Chinese media outlet. An article about it did appear in the online edition of China Daily, an English language state-run paper, but within an hour it had been removed.

China's TV News and printed press is entirely state-run and controlled by the Communist Party.

A clash on this level between editorial staff and party chiefs is unprecedented. The handling of the case will be a test for the incoming Chinese leadership.

The new Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will take office in March, had promised less censorship within Chinese media.