China: Newspaper calls for media reform

2013-01-10 09:33
A protester displays a banner to support journalists from the Southern Weekend newspaper near the company's offices in Guangzhou in China. (China Out, AFP)

A protester displays a banner to support journalists from the Southern Weekend newspaper near the company's offices in Guangzhou in China. (China Out, AFP)

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Guangzhou - A Chinese newspaper at the centre of a dispute over censorship said on Thursday that Communist regulation of the media must "keep pace with the times", in its first edition since the row began.

"It's fundamental that the party regulates the press, but its method of regulation needs to be advanced to keep pace with the times," the Southern Weekly said in an editorial, without making direct reference to the controversy.

The row at the popular liberal paper, which had an article urging greater rights protection replaced with one praising the ruling party, has seen demonstrators mass outside its headquarters in the southern city of Guangzhou.

But the newspaper came out on Thursday as scheduled after reports of an agreement between staff and authorities that officials would no longer directly interfere in content before publication.

There was speculation that as part of the deal, Southern Weekly would not give its account of the controversy.

'Updated methods'

In the event the editorial on press freedom was printed in small text, as a commentary on another article on media management, reprinted from the People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece.

The Southern Weekly said that because of the rising popularity of the internet, China needed an "updated method of managing public opinion", and called for "reasonable and constructive media" to be protected.

The paper's investigative reports have made it one of the biggest-selling in China, with a keen following among urban intellectuals, but also left it subject to periodic purges.

All Chinese media organisations receive instructions from government propaganda departments, which suppress news seen as "negative" by the Communist Party.

But the censorship of Southern Weekly was seen as unusually direct, although the original article soon emerged on Chinese social media.

Open letters

Former journalists at the newspaper, as well as intellectuals and students published open letters calling for the resignation of Tuo Zhen, the propaganda official said to have been responsible.

At their peak on Monday the demonstrations, the first against press censorship in two decades, drew hundreds of people and the campaign was backed by the blogosphere and celebrities on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.

Reports said that Hu Chunhua, the top Communist official in Guangdong province, where the newspaper is based, and a rising star in the party, had stepped in to mediate in the row.

There was no sign of protesters outside the newspaper's main office on Thursday morning.

Thursday's edition led with a two-page investigation into a fire at an orphanage in central China's Henan province, and devoted pages three and four to a review of the most influential legal cases of 2012.

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