Journalists at a state-controlled newspaper in China have staged a strike in protest against government censorship – the first public demonstration of its kind in more than two decades.
Staff at the Southern Weekend newspaper, which, despite being state controlled, is regarded as the most liberal of Chinese titles, took to the street today after the newspaper’s management changed a new year’s editorial calling for political reform and a strong constitution.
Photographs on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of the banned social network Twitter, showed hundreds of people gathered outside the newspaper offices in Guangzhou, in the southern province of Guangdong, to support the editorial workers. They held banners saying “end press censorship. The Chinese people want freedom” and carried chrysanthemums, the traditional Chinese flower of mourning. The newspaper’s staff is demanding the resignation of Tuo Zhen, the local propaganda official who is believed to have doctored the new year’s editorial and replaced it with a vapid tribute praising the ruling Communist Party.
The government generally comes down hard on such political expression. But the protesters in Guangzhou were mostly middle-class, educated young people – a key plank of support for the ruling Communist Party. So the government is unlikely to respond harshly.
Chinese journalists are strongly censored in what they can produce, and regular diktats are sent down from the propaganda bureaus, both at regional level and from the central government.
Dealing with sensitive issues is a bureaucratic nightmare, and journalists must go through many official channels before publication.