Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Battle Lines Drawn in China ; Clashes over Censorship at Newspaper Evolve along Ideological Lines

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Battle Lines Drawn in China ; Clashes over Censorship at Newspaper Evolve along Ideological Lines

Article excerpt

A face-off between pro-reform liberals and Communist Party defenders at the offices of a newspaper in Guangzhou came as protesting journalists were presenting officials with their demands.

Protests over censorship at one of China's most liberal newspapers descended into ideological confrontation in this southern provincial capital on Tuesday, with advocates of free speech confronting supporters of Communist Party control who wielded red flags and portraits of Mao Zedong.

The face-off between liberals and leftists, outside the headquarters of the newspaper, Southern Weekend, came a week after disgruntled editors and reporters there began protesting what they called crude meddling by the top propaganda official in Guangdong Province, which is near Hong Kong and has long had a reputation as a bastion of a relatively free press. The journalists predicament has fanned anger among many Chinese at party control of the media.

In Beijing, senior propaganda officials rolled out a national strategy of demonizing the rebel journalists and their supporters by saying the defiant outburst involved "hostile foreign forces," according to a directive issued to news organizations by the Central Propaganda Department. The order was translated by China Digital Times, a research group based at the University of California, Berkeley, that studies the Chinese media. The same directive said Chinese journalists must drop their support for Southern Weekend and insisted that "party control of the media is an unwavering basic principle."

An editor at a party news organization said the term "hostile forces" had been used in an internal discussion with a senior editor about the Southern Weekend conflict. Several Chinese journalists outside Guangdong said Tuesday that any positive outcome for the frustrated Southern Weekend reporters and editors appeared uncertain and that their call for the dismissal of Tuo Zhen, the top provincial propaganda official, who took up his post last May, was probably too radical for higher authorities to countenance.

The protesting journalists at Southern Weekend blame Mr. Tuo, a former journalist, for ordering a drastic change in a New Year's editorial that had originally called for greater respect for constitutional rights. The revised editorial instead praised party policies. Mr. Tuo has not commented on the accusation.

A former editor at the Nanfang Media Group, which includes Southern Weekend, said talks continued between representatives of the disgruntled journalists and newspaper managers and provincial propaganda officials.

The former editor, who asked that his name not be used for fear it could jeopardize his new job, said the talks focused on the protesting journalists' demands for an inquiry into the incident and for the newspaper's managers to rescind a statement that absolved Mr. Tuo of responsibility. The statement was posted on Sunday night on Southern Weekend's official microblog.

"They want that statement to be removed, and they also want assurances about relaxing controls on journalists -- not removing party oversight, but making it more reasonable, allowing reporters to challenge officials," he said. "The other main demand is for an impartial explanation of what happened, an accounting so it won't happen again."

The former editor said a continued standoff into Wednesday could jeopardize the newspaper's usual weekly publication on Thursday. …

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