Inside report: Chinese censors ordered rewrite despite compromise

January 13, 2013

By KENTARO KOYAMA/ Correspondent

GUANGZHOU, China--Reporters for the Southern Weekly newspaper lashed out against censorship after authorities ordered a last-minute rewrite of a New Year edition on top of earlier broad changes and top editors caved in, an in-house report showed.

Huang Can, editor in chief, and Wu Xiaofeng, his deputy, were summoned by the provincial propaganda department after final proofreading ended at 3 a.m. Jan. 1, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Asahi Shimbun.

The two re-edited six pages alone in the newsroom on Jan. 2 in accordance with final instructions. Five editors had gone home after working without sleep for days to rewrite stories.

The report, dated Jan. 7, is titled “The process of the publication of the special New Year edition.” It was compiled by the newspaper professional ethics committee, which comprises senior Southern Weekly officials.

The report, once posted on the Internet, was immediately removed.

The propaganda department of the Guangdong provincial party committee began censoring the Southern Weekly after Tuo Zhen, former vice president of the state-run Xinhua News Agency, became its chief in May. The newspaper is known for its progressive editorial policy.

According to the report and Southern Weekly writers, Huang received a budget for the New Year edition from staff on Dec. 24, saying he would show it to the propaganda department.

The newsroom received a number of directives.

From an article on the top 10 issues for 2013, four issues were deleted: the one-child policy; disclosure of government officials’ properties; the corrective labor system; and countries with visa-free policies to Chinese.

In a section introducing people chasing their dreams, stories on a person sent to a labor camp after criticizing the government on the Internet and other people were killed.

The propaganda department issued more instructions, and the newsroom had to make changes until the end of the year.

Huang initiated some changes, anticipating requests expected from the party organ, according to the report.

The title of the New Year message was originally “Dream of China, dream of constitutional rule.” But it was rewritten more than once.

The final version was “We are closer to our dream than any other times,” apparently a glorification of the Communist Party. The message was reduced from 1,800 characters to 1,000.

Huang photographed page proofs with his cellphone and sent them to the propaganda department.

When Huang and Wu were summoned to the propaganda department on Jan. 1, Yang Jian, Tuo’s deputy, called for additional changes.

Yang told them to modify the New Year message again by replacing more than 100 characters; add words about party members’ revolutionary spirits and reform and open-door spirits to a front-page graphic; and delete an article on boys who showed patriotism in a rational way at anti-Japanese demonstrations.

“Anger has accumulated in the editorial department after six months of prior screening of articles,” Wu said. “They will protest strongly.”

But Yang did not budge.

Southern Weekly reporters were enraged on Jan. 3 when they found their New Year edition substantially altered even after a compromise had been reached with authorities. About 100 people protested by issuing a joint statement on the Internet, and hundreds of supporters gathered in front of the newspaper offices to protest for three days, until police chased them off.

By KENTARO KOYAMA/ Correspondent
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Popular blogger Li Chengpeng, left, wears a mask in protest of censorship of the Southern Weekly at an autograph session in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Jan. 12. Li said he was told by authorities not to say anything. (Provided by a participant)

Popular blogger Li Chengpeng, left, wears a mask in protest of censorship of the Southern Weekly at an autograph session in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Jan. 12. Li said he was told by authorities not to say anything. (Provided by a participant)

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  • Popular blogger Li Chengpeng, left, wears a mask in protest of censorship of the Southern Weekly at an autograph session in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Jan. 12. Li said he was told by authorities not to say anything. (Provided by a participant)

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