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Chinese Journalists Demand Resignation of Provincial Propaganda Chief

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.

The printed censored version of the Southern Weekly New Year Greeting. Image from the House News. Non-commercial Use.

Zhai Minglei, a former Southern Weekend journalist explains [zh] why journalists and editors are outraged by the incident:

有听说过新闻检查官枪杀稿件的,没听说过新闻检查官代写稿件的,就象沙皇用普希金名字写诗,这不仅是新闻界的奇耻大辱,也是人类新闻史的巨荒唐的鬼事。

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:

庹震的所作所為,與執政黨的利益完全背道也馳。如果媒體失去公信力和影響力,請問,執政黨靠什麼來發聲?靠什麼說服人民?這個部長所做的事情,讓人民和執政黨離心離德,怎可能會有利於黨的利益?現在他的所作所為,已被認為不僅僅代表廣東省委宣傳部層面,正如網上很多人在問:中央新領導集體這些天所營造的開明開放,究竟是真的還是假的?

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:

我02年到南方周末,09年离开,亲眼见证它无一日不在严苛管制之下。一棵树,今日断其一枝,明日斩其一根,遮其阳光,截其水源,怎能长得健壮?何况还有媒体市场的巨大变革。南方周末是在衰落,但也就是它,尚有不甘做奴隶的精神,换作另一群人也许早就沉默死去,遑论有此次抗争。今天,我再次为之自豪。

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:

【支持党中央整肃南方系】由利益集团和海外势力操纵的南方系媒体一直充当西方和平演变中国的马前卒,甚至颠覆民族立场为日本侵略中国开脱罪行,拿着国家的福利干着反党反社会主义的勾当,典型的扛着红旗反红旗,如今党中央派庹部长果断整肃南方系彰显了民族复兴之决心,由衷地向党中央、习总书记致敬!

[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:

庹震敢这样,当然不是他个人的事,你以为他傻逼啊?人家揣摩上意,替上面做想做的事,人家才不会傻逼到自己违背上意乱搞,能爬到这位置,这点本事还是有的,所以我说最坏在上面,走苟只是执行意图。

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:

中国确实没有新闻审查制度,而是主管主办制下的新闻自查制度,针对南方报业的整顿只是个特例,这也反衬出此次庹部长的作为的来头很大,蓄谋已久,并非心血来潮。

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:

阶层悬殊正在分离中国,部门利益正在切割中国,公安部交管局的新规给交管局巨大的利益寻租空间,自我壮大其行业腐败。庹震擅改《南方周末》新年献词,说明强奸言论自由的人都有自我示范的冲动。《人民日报》改版称新的一年将努力“说真话”,这可能是它63年来硕果累累谎言中的又一个谎言

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.

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