Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend's new year editorial “China’s dream, the dream of constitutionalism” was brutally censored and rewritten by the Guangdong provincial Propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen. The new editorial was titled, “Dreams are our promise of what ought to be done”.
In response, the newspaper's editorial team issued an explanation notice on the censorship incident which has been spread widely through China's microblogging site Sina Weibo.
The censor machine at Sina Weibo then started deleting accounts of journalists and editors who are working for the Southern Media Group. In addition, a long list of terms related to the incident have been filtered in the Sina search engine. Leading many started to believe that the editorial intervention by the Guangdong propaganda department, has been endorsed by the new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
Zhai Minglei, a former Southern Weekend journalist explains [zh] why journalists and editors are outraged by the incident:
I have heard that news officer would trash articles but never heard that they would actually write for the newsroom. This is a the Russian Tsar writing poetry under the name of Aleksandr Pushkin. This is not only a shameless incident in the news circle, but a bizarre incident in media history.
Journalists demand resignation
In reaction to the incident, a group of former journalists from the Southern Media Group published an open letter [zh] demanding Tuo resign from his position. The letter also urges the new Communist Party leadership to step in to restore order:
Tuo Zhen's action is against the interest of the ruling party. If media loses their credibility and impact, how can the party persuade the people? This department head's action has cut the connection between the ruling party and the people. How can it be of interest to the party? Many people believe that what he has done, does not only represent the Guangdong propaganda department, people have started to doubt if the open attitude of the new leadership is genuine or fake?
Li Haipeng, also a former Southern Weekend reporter, is very proud of [zh] the collective action:
I was working with the Southern Weekend from 2002-2009. It has been operating under the tyranny [of the propaganda department] everyday. It is like a tree dying slowly because today someone cut one branch, tomorrow another branch. Then someone covers the sun and cut off the water. How can it remain healthy? In addition, the market transformation has contributed to its slow decay. Thanks to the spirit that resists enslavement, the paper has continued to survive. If another group of people were running the media, it would have died without making a sound and you won't see the resistance [such as this open letter]. Today, I feel proud again.
Censorship endorsed by Central Authority?
Meanwhile the Foreign Ministry's Spokesperson Hua Chunying said in the press conference that [zh] she was not aware of the incident and stressed that China does not have a news censorship system, as the law in China protects press freedom. Such denial has attracted a lot of sarcastic remarks and angry comments, to the extent that Sina Weibo had to close the comment section.
On the one hand, the journalists’ protest messages are heavily censored, on the other hand, the microblog that supports censorship has been promoted by Sina Weibo. That is the reason why netizens suspect the censorship practice has received the endorsement from the central propaganda department. For example, @shanbang (上邦实业)'s microblog is very visible in the search engine:
[Support central communist leaders on tightening its management of the Southern Media Group] The Southern Media Group has been serving the interest of western interest groups to transform China peacefully. To the extend that it justifies the Japanese invasion of China against its own nationality. It receives subsidies from the government while engaging in anti-party and anti-socialism activities. This is a typical act of holding the red flag but fighting against the red flag. Now that Party official Tuo is being decisive in tightening [its grip on] the management of the Southern Media Group. The action reflects the party's determination in the revival of the Chinese nation. We have to show our respect to the central party leadership and to Xi Jinping secretary.
On Twitter, many believe that Tuo has the central authority's blessing in his outrageous act. Tufu, a former media worker believes that Tuo is just the executer:
Of course this is not a personal act of Tuo Zhen. Do you think he is that stupid? He is just serving his master and will not go against his master's wish. The very fact that he was promoted into this position implies that he is good at guessing his master's wish. He is just an executer. The bad guys are on the top.
Mozhixu's comment echoed [zh] with Tufu's judgement:
Strictly speaking, China does not have a news censorship system but a self-censorship system under the supervision of the authorities. The clamping down on the Southern Media Group is a special incident [that deviates from existing practice]. It also reflects that department head Tuo's action is well-planned, not an impulse.
However Ran Yunfei believed [zh] that departmental interest is involved in the incident:
Class and departmental interest is eroding China. For example, new regulation on traffic management has given more space for the transportation department to gain, expand and thus more opportunity for corruption. Tuo Zhen's impulse to rape Southern Weekend's New Year Greeting is a desire for performing [the departmental function]. While the China Daily recently claimed that it would try its best to “speak the truth” in the new year, this may turn out to be the biggest lie in its 63 history.