The outspoken Southern Weekly honoured the five "best censored stories" of the past year at its annual meeting yesterday. They included a feature removed from the New Year edition which was at the centre of a rare censorship row between the newspaper's editorial staff and the provincial propaganda department.
Despite the awards, which also covered some of the best stories that made it into print, and the fact that the newspaper has resumed normal operations, the meeting was still eye-catching in the aftermath of the row.
A journalist at the Guangdong newspaper posted pictures of summaries of the award-winning stories, displayed at the meeting, on his Sina Weibo microblog. The post was forwarded more than a thousand times by microbloggers adding their respect and support, before being deleted about three hours later.
The unpublished reports included a feature about young people who remained rational during the waves of anti-Japanese protests that took place in a number of mainland cities in September. The story was ditched for a second time in the New Year edition on the orders of propaganda officials, even though similar coverage had appeared in other newspapers and it was no longer deemed a "sensitive topic".
A story commemorating the victims of a deadly rainstorm in Beijing last summer which killed 79 people was also among the unpublished winners.
Reporters at the newspaper had previously complained that eight pages of detailed coverage were pulled at the last minute and a full-page obituary for more than 20 victims was replaced with one honouring five civil servants killed in the storm.
Other winners included a feature about Zhang Jun, a former vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, and young people in Wukan village, where protests erupted after land grabs in 2011. An interview with the former Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda also won a prize.
Zeng Li , a retired censor at the paper, said on his microblog yesterday: "When presenting the awards, the host said that the killed stories were all good reporting, and I agree."
Separately, Nanfang People magazine, a sister publication of Southern Weekly, ran a cover story on Pu Zhiqiang , an outspoken human rights lawyer who has spent the best part of a decade fighting lawsuits involving freedom of speech.
The 18 pages of coverage detailed Pu's career as a lawyer who has used his expertise and fame to help dissidents, and his contribution to reforming the notorious labour camp system.
A former journalist said that until now, any mention in mainland media of Pu, who took part in a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square in 1989, had been censored.