Editors demand end of advanced Communist Party censorship at state-run Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend


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The Independent Online

Editors of the state-controlled Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend have demanded an end to advanced censorship of the publication by Communist Party officials.

The newspaper, which launched a rare strike over censorship this week, met with local propaganda officials today to try to resolve the dispute that has grown into a political challenge for China's new leadership.

The row has triggered protests and endorsements for the newspaper’s cause from well-known Chinese celebrities, prompting unprecedented public calls for the Communist Party to loosen its tight grip on the media.

The protests by press freedom activists were sparked by a confrontation between Southern Weekend journalists and a provincial propaganda official accused of replacing a New Year's editorial calling for political reform and a strong constitution with a vapid tribute to the ruling Communist Party.

At the meeting yesterday, the editors demanded an end to advance censorship of the newspaper. The Communist Party would be permitted to provide guidance, but could not interfere with content until after publication, they said.

Academics have signed open letters calling for the official, Tuo Zhen, to resign, and protesters continued their demonstration outside the newspaper’s office in support of the editorial staff yesterday.

Drawing attention to the issue, the Chinese actress Yao Chen quoted the late dissident Russian writer and Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn to her millions of followers on China’s version of Twitter, Sina Weibo: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world”.

The protests have also seen government supporters take to the streets, accusing the striking media workers of treachery, urging people to toe the party line and blaming “the meddling of hostile external forces” for interfering in China’s domestic media.

The Global Times, which is an offshoot of party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, put the blame on overseas dissidents, including the blind lawyer and civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng who fled house arrest last year. “Their campaign … targets China's entire media system,” the newspaper said.