Reporters Without Borders condemns the unrelenting efforts of the Chinese authorities to cover up their censorship of a New Year editorial in the reformist weekly Nanfang Zhoumo, and the ensuing protests over the past week.
“By dictating a preconceived editorial line to news departments around the country, the Chinese authorities have shown their contempt for press freedom,” the organization said.
“The propaganda department has clearly demonstrated that it is unwilling to allow dissident voices to be heard. The agreement reached by the newspaper’s editorial department and the Guangdong propaganda department is unsatisfactory since it includes no reparations or guarantees on the part of the authorities.”
Nanfang Zhoumo editors, who had threatened to publish some 1,034 articles that had been totally or partially censored in the past year, agreed not to air publicly their grievances against Tuo Zhen, head of the Guangdong provincial propaganda department who was behind the censorship of the New Year editorial. In exchange, department officials were reported to have agreed not to make any changes to articles in the newspaper without prior notice.
The latest issue of Nanfang Zhoumo appeared yesterday, although it was not available at some of its usual retail outlets Guangdong.
The Chinese have spared no efforts since 3 January to calm the discontent aroused by the “New Year greetings incident”.
On 8 January, the China Digital Times reported that the central propaganda department sent a note to news organizations reminding them that “Party control of the media is an unwavering basic principle” while absolving the Guangdong propaganda department of any responsibility for the “incident” exposed by Nanfang Zhoumo. The central propaganda department attributed the wave of protests to “hostile external forces involved in the development of the situation”.
On the same day, an editorial in the pro-government Global Times was sent to news organizations with instructions to republish it. The Beijing News objected and expressed strong support for its Guangdong fellow newspaper. According to information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the police were sent to the paper’s offices to put pressure on the journalists to obey.
The newspaper’s staff tried to muster support by posting messages on Weibo, the Chinese micro blogging site, about the pressure put on the paper’s editors by the authorities, in particular by Liu Yunshan, a member of the permanent committee of the politburo since the 18th Communist Party Congress in November. The messages were quickly deleted.
The Beijing News was finally forced to reprint the Global Times editorial after the official print works refused to publish it unless it was included. The paper’s editor, Dai Zigeng, submitted his resignation on Tuesday. It was rejected by the Beijing authorities, aware that such a move would only add to the popular discontent.
For now, there are fears that Dai Zigeng may be subjected to reprisals on the part of the central propaganda department or may, at the very least, come under particular attention.
According to estimates posted on Weibo, 29 activists who expressed their support for Nanfang Zhoumo were reported to have been questioned by the police and some were said to be still in custody.
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