Outrage as China censors block paper article

January 08, 2013 - 12:59:11 am

Demonstrators near the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou, China, yesterday.

BEIJING: Hundreds of people demonstrated in support of media freedom in China yesterday outside the offices of a newspaper at the centre of a censorship row, in a rare public display of anger on the issue.

The protesters were outside the Southern Weekly’s office in Guangzhou, with one banner reading: “We want press freedom, constitutionalism and democracy”.

The demonstration in the southern city came after censors on Thursday blocked a New Year article in the popular liberal newspaper which called for the realisation of a “dream of constitutionalism in China” to protect rights.

Some of the journalists working at the newspaper said they intended to strike over the row in Internet postings on Sunday evening.

All Chinese media organisations are subject to instructions from government propaganda departments, which often suppress news seen as “negative” by the ruling Communist Party, although some publications take a more critical stance.

On Friday, a liberal Chinese journal’s website, Annals of the Yellow Emperor, was shut down after it published an appeal for leaders to guarantee constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and assembly.

The crackdown on freedom of expression comes despite pledges of change from the new leadership, headed by president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, which has promised a more open style of governance since the Communist Party congress in November.

Police allowed the demonstration, which was made up of mainly young people, who were carrying posters and scattering chrysanthemums, a flower used at funerals in China which has become the protesters’ symbol for the loss of press freedom.

The censorship at the Southern Weekly sparked online uproar from netizens, including the newspaper’s staff.

Some Internet reports said strike action was agreed by staff after senior editors took control of the newspaper’s posts on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, from day-to-day journalists.

Searches for Southern Weekly on the popular microblogging site were blocked on Monday.

A Chinese-language editorial in the state-run Global Times, which has links to the ruling party, said Beijing was determined to maintain the status quo when it came to the media.