Wow! Demonstrations went on for another day in Guangzhou over the heavy-handed censorship of Southern Weekly. And things are seriously heating up. Even the Central Committee in Beijing is getting involved.
BEIJING (AP) – Free-speech protesters in masks squared off against flag-waving communist loyalists in a southern Chinese city Tuesday as a dispute over censorship at a newspaper spilled into the broader population, with authorities shutting micro blog accounts of supporters of the paper.
What started out as a conflict between journalists at the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly and a top censor over a New Year’s editorial has rapidly become a focal point driving public calls for the authoritarian Communist Party government to loosen its grip on information.
The hopes of some China observers that Beijing would not react to the situation in Guangzhou were quickly dashed today when the Central Committee in the capital released a statement that the Communist Party must always have “absolute control” of the media in China and that this will not change. (Ministry of Truth: Urgent Notice on Southern Weekly)
The key points of the short directive:
- “The party has absolute control of China’s media. This basic principle is unshakable.”
- “The Southern Weekly publishing incident has nothing to do with Guangdong province’s propaganda chief, comrade Tuo Zhen.”
- “Hostile foreign forces had interfered in the Southern Weekly incident.”
The directive also ordered (not suggested) that all Chinese media outlets reprint an editorial critical of the demands of the reporters at Southern Weekly. Among the points raised in this piece were:
- [T]here is division within Southern Weekend
- [M]ost of the most active online participants are those who left the “Southern Weekend” some time ago.
- These people are making spirited demands [that are] obvious to everyone [the] target is the entire system that involves the media.
- [G]iven the current state of China’s society and government, the kind of “free media” that these people yearn for in their hearts simply cannot exist. All of China’s media can develop only to the extent China does, and media reform must remain part-and-parcel of China’s overall reform, and the media absolutely will not become a “political special zone” of China.
South China Morning Post: (Beijing says party’s control of press ‘unshakable’ after Southern Weekly protest)
The protests also brought more attention to the guy who thought that citing the Chinese constitution (and party rhetoric) to call for more individual freedoms was subversive — Tuo Zhen.
The South China Morning Post did a brief bio of Tuo Zhen.
They described him as a once “crusading journalist.” Well, that is true in the Chinese media context.
He did some excellent stories about how there were too many people in China not getting the benefits of the economic growth taking place in the country.
He gained early fame for an award-winning story he wrote in 1983 about an engineer who lived in a dilapidated home and worked for a boss who owned four apartments.
What is important to remember is that these kinds of stories also fit into the party narrative. There was nothing in these stories that challenged supreme control of the country by the Communist Party.
Tuo did not report that corruption is endemic in a country ruled by one party without any checks on its power. Checks such as an independent opposition movement that has a chance at taking over the reins of power in a free election. Or, an independent and free media.
He did understand — at one time — that journalists need the trust of the readers/viewers.
He once said the fairness and objectivity of journalists should not be challenged, and the trust bestowed upon journalists by ordinary citizens should be a strong motivation.
But that went by the wayside as he moved up the ladder in the state-run media.
But journalists and people in media circles said Tuo had become a conservative and had tightened his grip on the media as he rose through the ranks.
A letter issued by former staff at the Southern Weekly said Tuo turned the Economic Daily from a newspaper with good prospects into a silent nonentity.
When he moved to Xinhua, publications under the news agency refrained from outspoken commentary. Xiao Shu , a former journalist at the Southern Weekly, said Tuo had asked that stories be removed from Xinhua-affiliated publications.
Bottom line: No matter how much things may change in China, one-party rule may not be challenged nor may anyone challenge the idea that the party also control the media.
But someone keeps forgetting to tell the Netizens of China: Web users attack press censorship