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  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 3:07pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

China's brave journalists stand up to censors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 7:23am

China has some of the world's bravest journalists and there are perhaps none more so than those who work for Guangzhou's Southern Weekly. Their landmark protest over censorship of an editorial by propaganda officials won widespread support, prompting authorities to opt for negotiations to end a strike rather than crushing it by force. It is tempting to believe that a new dawn has come for media freedom on the mainland, but, in the cold light of reality, it has to be realised that as long as the Communist Party holds power, it will never relinquish control of the gun and the pen. Nonetheless, if the country is to thrive, the government has to "keep pace with the times", as the newspaper so rightly stated in its resumed editions yesterday.

Press freedom does not exist on the mainland; authorities are in full control of what gets printed or broadcast. All media is state-owned. There are journalists constantly trying to push the envelope, though. The rise of social media provides a new avenue for expression, one that is increasingly difficult to censor. As society gets wealthier and more sophisticated, it is inevitable that the system will have to change.

Incoming president Xi Jinping's taking over as the party's general secretary has brought a sense that change is in the air. The new leadership has shown a desire for a more liberal approach. That may well have emboldened the Southern Weekly's journalists and their supporters. Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua's stepping in to broker a deal between the paper and propaganda office was a sensible move, reminiscent of the resolving of a land dispute between officials and residents of Wukan village last year, but it is premature to believe that a loosening of censorship has begun.

What has been shown, though, is that journalists are getting ever bolder. A strike in the media is nothing unusual to outsiders, but on the mainland it is daring and courageous. Challenging censors is the same as taking on the party. No "external forces" are involved, as some officials have contended; the journalists are reflecting society's wishes.

Authorities have to end their heavy-handed censorship. An unfettered media and freedom of speech will lead to a cleaner government that is more attuned to people's needs. There will be less corruption and wrongdoing. Censorship will not disappear overnight, but if there is to be a place for its loosening to begin, there is none better than the Southern Weekly.

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CatInAFlap
Incredible how fast and loose people are willing to play with the concept of a free press. At least in the west, where capital is king, there is a choice of newspapers (however limited and however subservient to the owner of a particular title or TV station) with different editorial lines. "whymak'', you have the freedom to post pretty much whatever you like on this Hong Kong news website. Don't come crying to me if you ever lose that right. First they came for the Jews, I said nothing, then the trade unionists, I said nothing, then the communists, and then the homosexuals. Then they came for me and there was no one left to fight for me.
whymak
Facts, or rather conclusions derived from the scieintific method, empirics and logic, should count more than the nebulous, ill understood, unmitigated personal freedoms, which when inappropriately exercised, could threaten society at large.
However, when truth and facts are on our side, we could still end up being persecuted by tyrants and unjust laws. This is a sad universal fact commonly observed by people living under any system of government.
Therefore, the valid criterion for personal struggle is not the superficial speech freedom as most people self-righteously customize to their brainwashed practices and tastes. Rather, we should view it as the necessity to violate the laws when your expression of these personal freedoms contributes positively to the survival of the group.
Indeed, the statement here is just a consequence of the law of natural selection seeking a balance between individual and group survivals. This is the foundation from which all moral system should spring. Speech and other personal freedoms are only secondary.
whymak
Since when have reporters been given the rights to protest the editorial stance, the rights and prerogatives of the owner and publisher? Not New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist and the Financial Times, just to name a few. If you want to make state ownership of a publication an issue, as is the case here, you ought to come up with a new argument.
I can assure you that if the WSJ editor expresses an opinion that Rupert Murdoch forbids explicitly, he would be accompanied out of the building by the security guard before the end of the day.
Fortunately, WSJ and NYT editors generally allow their reporters more than sufficient latitude as long as they are backed by strong documentation.That's what makes them good publications despite of their party line, troglodytic editorials.
Hong Kong is a free society. While SCMP palace coup by some junior writers is still in our recent memory, let me remind them no one puts a gun to their head to be a hired hand for this publication.
Sir Robert Kuok has given you folks more latitude than he should. I think you should learn to respect this unearned editorial freedom, given the defamatory attitudes of some writers.
CatInAFlap
Er, maybe. But how many journalists have been killed in China? Not a lot compared to the Philippines and Russia. Myopia is seriously debilitating disease.

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