Chinese media protests against censorship; CPC unfazed
Beijing: A rare protest by journalists of a state-run Chinese weekly against official interference entered the second day Tuesday amid tacit support from other media outlets, notwithstanding the ruling CPC's assertion that it had an "absolute and unshakable" control over them.
Separately, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also denounced the US for expressing support for the journalists' agitation against the press censorship, saying it amounted to interference in China's internal affairs.
"China is opposed to any country's, any person's interference in internal affairs in any form," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei told the media here.
His comments came in response to a question on State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland's statement that the US has long defended and supported the right of media freedom for Chinese journalists and for international journalists operating in China.
Hong declined to comment on the protests, saying it was not his purview.
Meanwhile, several Chinese media outlets have appeared to back journalists at a weekly newspaper embroiled in a row over censorship, BBC reported.
News portals, however, carried a state-sanctioned editorial criticising the journalists. But, they added a disclaimer saying that the piece did not mean that they shared the views expressed in it, the report said.
Journalists of the Southern Weekend, a Chinese language weekly published on Thursdays from Guangzhou close to Hong Kong, in an unprecedented move, held a demonstration outside their office protesting against the interference by a Communist Party official.
The protest attracted worldwide attention as it was also the first such event following last November's once-in-a-decade leadership conference of the Party in which Vice President Xi Jinping was elected its new leader promising more reforms and opening up.
Reports from Guangzhou said protests continued for the second day today by the journalists and police intervened to stop scuffles between scribes and a small group of government supporters who appeared on the scene with Mao's portraits.
But the most decisive response came from the Communist Party of China (CPC), which in a memo circulated to various media units firmly stated that the official media would remain in its complete control.
"The party has absolute control of China's media. This basic principle is unshakable," the memo issued by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party's Central Committee to Party Chiefs and media officials said.
Referring to yesterday's protests by journalists demanding freedom from interference of local Party officials, the memo said "the incident has nothing to do with Guangdong province's propaganda chief, comrade Tuo Zhen," who was accused of having rewritten a critical editorial.
The journalists blamed Tuo for altering a critical editorial written by the editors in the New Year edition adding pro-Party and government content.
Instead, the party memo accused "foreign forces" of being behind the incident.
"Hostile foreign forces had interfered in the Southern Weekend incident," the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post quoted the memo as saying.
The memo requires officials to continue to prevent editors and journalists from expressing online support for Southern Weekend.
It also asked newspapers to print an editorial published by the state-run newspaper the Global Times today which ruled out freedom of press.
It claimed that former employees of the Southern Weekly and activists, including the US-settled blind Chinese rights activists Chen Guangcheng, were "among those who avidly promote the issue online."
"Their campaign, ostensibly aiming at specific officials, actually targets China's entire media system," it said.
For media professionals, it is clear that under the reality of China's current state of affairs, the country is unlikely to have the "absolutely free media" that is dreamed of by those activists, the editorial said calling for "soul- searching."
"The development of media must be in accordance with China's own situation. Media reform must be a part of China's entire reform process. There cannot be a 'special political zone' set for media. The Southern Weekly issue will not be concluded with a surprise ending," it said.
"Those external activists are expecting direct confrontation between Chinese media and the current system. But nowadays, China's attention is on developing the economy and improving livelihoods. The public doesn't want to see uncertainty in the country's future," the editorial said.
"China's media development needs reform. But media reform should be in line with China's politics. We must actively and bravely promote media reform, but meanwhile, avoid radical reform that is out of step with political development and China's reforms as a whole," it said.
"We hope readers support the Southern Weekly and cooperate to resolve the incident, not forcing it to play a role beyond its reach," it said.