After censor row, Southern Weekly treads warily with New Year's message

Southern Weekly insists on right to 'express truth' but avoids mention of previous stand-off

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 4:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 4:35pm

A newspaper at the centre of rare protests over government censorship last year - after its New Year's message was altered - insisted in this year's article on its right to "express the truth".

The row at the Southern Weekly blew up when an article urging greater protection of people's rights was replaced by one praising the Communist Party.

Demonstrators massed outside the offices of the newspaper in Guangzhou, in a rare stand-off against authorities over media freedom.

This year's New Year message focused on the newspaper's values in fighting for truth on its 30-year anniversary. It took a largely philosophical tone, and did not contain any overt mention of last year's incident or any reference to the government's propaganda machine.

But it said: "As a newspaper that strives for the truth, we are sometimes powerful as well as powerless.

"But we have no choice … but to question, and express the truth industrially, professionally and responsibly," it said.

China was going through a period of "great rejuvenation" and "transformation", it said, but warned that presented an opportunity for "what is false to pretend to be real".

Nonetheless, some readers were underwhelmed by what the newspaper described as its "New Year Congratulatory Message".

"Compared with previous years' messages, this is really pathetic," said one poster in a comment under the article.

Others said it was "a little disappointing" and "lacks power".

Some reader comments did back the newspaper, with many simply saying: "Carry on - we support you!"

The public challenge over press freedom last year was seen as one of the first tests for the new party leadership under President Xi Jinping , which has since launched crackdowns on dissent.

At the peak of the protest, demonstrators numbered in the hundreds and the campaign won support online, including from celebrities with a huge following on weibo social networks. The stand-off received widespread coverage by foreign media.

A civil rights activist who took part in the protests is expected to go on trial soon on charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order".

Yang Maodong , who is better known by his pen name Guo Feixiong , was detained in August, and reportedly told family members that the police considered him the mastermind behind last year's protests.

Nearly two dozen journalists at the Nanfang Media Group, which publishes the Southern Weekly, last weekend posted statements on their weibo accounts seeking to offer support to Yang and disputing that he had broken public order laws.



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