News / Asia

Chinese Paper Has Long History of Challenging Authorities

A New Year edition of Southern Weekly, center, published on January 3, 2013, is exhibited at a newsstand in Beijing, China, January 4, 2013.
A New Year edition of Southern Weekly, center, published on January 3, 2013, is exhibited at a newsstand in Beijing, China, January 4, 2013.
The influential Chinese newspaper at the center of a rare protest against government censorship has a long history of progressive and controversial reporting that has tested the limits of free speech in China's strictly controlled media environment.

The Southern Weekly is part of the larger Nanfang Media Group, which is known for its in-depth and aggressive reports on sensitive topics, such as the 2003 SARS outbreak or China's massive network of illegal detentions centers.

The controversial coverage has often landed the media group in the bad graces of Chinese propaganda officials, who have tried - with limited success - to get it to conform to their standards.

Rachel Lu, editor of Tea Leaf Nation, a website that monitors Chinese media,says the paper has undergone several purges in recent years, where staff have been fired, presumably for their reports.

"There have been incidents where editors were replaced, and they would helicopter in new people to run the paper and they helicopter in a new propaganda chief to run Guangdong (province), where the paper is based," says Lu.

She says the restrictions have been successful, but only to a certain point.

"Some would say it's definitely been reined in a little bit. But it has basically retained that flavor, that sort of liberal bend, even throughout all these years where the government tries to restrain its coverage and angle," she says.

One of the most famous incidents came in 2003, when one of the group's editors published an investigation into the death of a young worker who died in police custody after being beaten.

The story led to the discovery of a vast network of underground police detention camps - a revelation that embarrassed Beijing. It also resulted in the detention of Cheng Yizhong, the editor who published the investigation.

Chinese propaganda officials have also tried pre-publication censorship to silence the newspaper. The Southern Weekly said in a recent statement that over 1,000 articles were censored to some degree in 2012 alone.

In the most recent case, editors say state censors replaced an editorial calling for greater constitutional rights with one that praised the accomplishments of the Communist Party.

The government has so far not responded to the incident, which has prompted two days of small protests outside the Southern Weekly, as well as messages of support from a wide array of Chinese celebrities and public figures.

Related - Chinese Continue Protest Against Media Censorship

A Tuesday editorial in the state-run Southern Weekly insisted the paper's editors, not state censors, were responsible for the publication of the editorial in the Southern Weekly. It accused "external activists," including the exiled blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, of inciting the controversy.

But Michael Anti, a prominent journalist and commentator on Chinese social media, says the issue is being driven by journalists who are upset with government meddling and by a general public who wants to know the truth, not by outside forces.

"Of course not. There is no evidence to say that. It is definitely just an excuse. The funny thing is, they even use a blind lawyer in New York City as a scapegoat. I think it's just a joke," Anti says.

Observers say they expect the Southern Weekly, which has a circulation of 1.6 million copies that are spread across China every week, to remain influential among China's intellectuals and progressives, noting that this week's controversy has done little to curb its influence.

  • A supporter of the Southern Weekly newspaper in a wheelchair chants slogans in front of police officers near the newspaper's office in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 10, 2013.
  • A protester is taken away by plainclothes police officers and placed in a jeep near the office of Southern Weekly newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 10, 2013.
  • Leftists carrying portraits of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong demonstrate outside the office of the liberal Southern Weekly newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 9, 2013.
  • Police separate a supporter of the Southern Weekly from confronting leftists protesting outside the office of the liberal newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 9, 2013.
  • A police officer walks past supporters of Southern Weekly demonstrating outside the office of the liberal newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 9, 2013.
  • Demonstrators hold banners outside the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China, January 8, 2013.
  • Demonstrators hold banners, portraits of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong, and Chinese national flags next to police outside the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper, January 8, 2013.
  • A man lays a bouquet of chrysanthemums in front of the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper, January 7, 2013.
  • Demonstrators gather along a street near the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper, January 7, 2013.
  • Security guards stand near protest banners and flowers are laid outside the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper, January 7, 2013.

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This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: GOOD from: The world
January 18, 2013 10:17 PM
Good for China. Good for United States.

by: fuche
January 14, 2013 10:50 AM
In my opinion, southern weekly event was a totally ridiculous performance. The actors are both editors from southern weekly and GuangZhou government. In other words, southern weekly couldn't stand for the voice from democracy. In China, the issues are very complex, and even these protesters don't know what the problem is.

by: Charlie from: Shenzhen
January 10, 2013 1:50 AM
I am wondering what reasons there are to support and miss Mao zhedong, dozens of people died under his dictatorship ruling, an evil regime was established by him that has been suffering the ordinary people for decades
In Response

by: Charlie from: China
January 23, 2013 8:31 PM
to 王, I think you are either brain washed or a government wumao, what you said is just insulting the intelligence of the human being, what Mao zhedong was and what he had done are known by the whole world, an evil dictator
In Response

by: from: Shan Dong
January 18, 2013 5:40 AM
Are you a real chinese people? Mao zhedong was the father of our country,he give us the future.
In Response

by: Wangchuk from: NYC
January 11, 2013 10:37 AM
Some of those Mao supporters are likely govt or Party agents sent there as counter-protestors. The Party frequently uses CCP members to stage fake counter-protests or protests in support of the Party. Whenever Hu Jintao visited the US, the Chinese Embassy sent staff to "welcome" him and paid overseas Chinese living in the US to come out & great him waiving giant red flags. They usually get $25 plus a free lunch & are sent in buses to wherever Hu Jintao might be.

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