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China's Southern Media Group Turns Back on Anti-Censorship Supporters

A group of journalism students in China expressed their support for Southern Weekend against censorship in early January 2013. Image from inmediahk.net. Non-commercial use.

The year 2013 began and now ends with anti-censorship drama of liberal Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend.

The Southern Media Group, which owns Southern Weekend, issued testimony in November 2013 that helps the prosecution of activists who took part in an anti-censorship protest in early January outside corporation's building. Southern Weekend had issued an editorial appeal for readers’ support against the provincial propaganda department's pressure to rewrite its New Year editorial.

Activists Guo Feixiong, Liu Yuandong, Sun Desheng were prosecuted by the Guangzhou police of disrupting the public order in the protest. Guo Feixiong was accused of being the mastermind behind the protest in support of the newspaper and has been detained since August 2013.

According to the written testimony submitted to the police, which was made public on September 27, 2013 via Wen Yunchao, the public gathering outside the building between January 6 to 9 obstructed their daily work as people and vehicles could not enter freely from the front gate. The company had to open the side gate for their staff and some meetings and activities were cancelled.

Guo Feixiong's lawyer, Chang Xuezhong, explained the impact of the testimony at the trial on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo. His post was deleted quickly. Zhou Sheng backed up his tweet in his article, “Better For Southern Weekend to Die Back Then Than Being Alive for Today's Humiliation” (南周 恨不当年死 留作今日羞):

南方报业传媒集团出具的情况说明,完全是为了配合警方的指控,提供构成聚众扰乱公共场所秩序罪的后果要件。《南方周末》当初呼吁人们去声援它,现在却说声援它的人们影响了工作秩序,如此颠倒黑白,恩将仇报,助纣为虐,怎么还好意思一期一期地把报纸印出来?

The Southern Media Group's explanation is to assist the police's prosecution [against Guo Feixiong] by providing the evidence of disturbing public order. Back then, Southern Weekend urged people to support them and now it claims their supporters had affected their work. The white is turned into black, people's good will is avenged. It helps the bullies to bully the weak.

The Southern Media Group's statement has outraged many. Yu Jianrong, a famous public intellectual, said on Weibo (post deleted but backed up by Zhou Sheng):

今年建最后悔的事,年初为声援南周,我曾将自己的微博头像换成黑体‘南方周末’字样,现郑重向我的关注者道歉,并保证,如南周不能客观报道或者说明当时的情况,给声援者一个客观公正,我绝不再接受这份报纸的任何采访,绝不再在这份报纸发表任何文字。

The most regretful thing this year was to express my support for Southern Weekend. I even changed my profile picture into grey-coloured “Southern Weekend” back then. Now I have to apologize to my readers and promise that if Southern Weekend fails to report and explain the situation objectively and fairly, I would never accept the paper's interview again and would never write for this paper.

Matthew Pang, a former employee of Southern Media Group, urged his former colleagues to speak out against the corporation's statement:

For a long period of time, the Southern Media Group had enlightened the media industry, but now it has turned into a tool for oppressing those who demand democracy and freedom. Here I have to make a moral “threat” to my ex-colleagues from the media group: If you keep silent about such an immoral statement, we are no longer friends. If you are blind to those who once supported you out of justice, you are an insult to the journalistic profession.

Wen Yunchao has been keeping track of reporters and editors who have spoken out against the statement. Within a day, about 20 employees from the Southern Media Group had bashed the paper's testimony. She Feike, who was also working at one of the media outlets owned by the Group in January 2013, wrote:

我已于2月底提出辞职,3月底正式离职,南周事件爆发的1月,我是南方报业旗下南都周刊分管新闻版块的编委。我亲眼所见亲耳所闻的情况,未见有任何外力妨碍到南都周刊生产秩序,新闻版块运转正常。作为一个参加过联署的前南方人,我对刘远东郭飞熊等曾声援南方报业的公民深表敬意和谢意。

I resigned around the end of February and left my position officially at the end of March. The incident happened in January and I was still a member of the editorial team in the Southern Metropolis Weekly which is also owned by the Southern Media Group. From what I witnessed, I did not see any disruption from outside forces that affected our magazine's production. The news beat operated normally. As one of the former Southern Media Group's employees who had signed the statement [against censorship], I am grateful to Liu Yuandong and Guo Feixiong, among other citizens who expressed their support to the media group.

Dai Zhiyong, a columnist and staff member of the media group,  said:

这份声明突破了底线,对此难以苟同。我个人并未觉得自已的工作秩序受到在大门口表达观点的诸位先生女士的任何影响,包括支持南周与反对南周的诸位,皆有权利表达自己的观点和判断。

The statement has broken the bottom line [of one's morality] that I have to voice out my disagreement. I don't think the people gathered outside the front gate affected my work. Supporters or opponents, they have the right to express their opinion and judgement.

Chief Editor of the opinion page at Southern Metropolis Daily of the Media Group Su Shaoxin said:

本人苏少鑫,南方都市报评论版社论编辑。2013年1月7、8日值班编社论版。每天下午四点半报题会正常,组版工作正常,值班领导审稿签版正常。与本人在该部门工作两年半时间中的其他任何时间无任何差别。特此声明。 

I am Su Shaoxin, Chief Editor of the opinion page at Southern Metropolis Daily. Between January 7-8, I had my regular meeting at 4:30 p.m., everything in our editorial work was normal. The leaders [of the propaganda authorities] signed our page before printing as usual. It was as normal as any other time during of our department's work in the past 2.5 years. This is a statement for clarification.

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