Whitewash Claims Persist After Chinese Newspaper Makes Deal With Censors


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A dispute between China’s propaganda authorities and a liberal southern newspaper has taken a fresh twist, as reports of a tentative deal have been offset by claims of an official whitewash and the resignation of a prominent newspaper publisher in Beijing.Editorial workers at the Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Weekly, some of whom have been on strike since Sunday, reached a deal on Tuesday, according to Associated Press, with provincial officials whom they accused of tampering with an outspoken New Year’s Day editorial.

According to the agreement, censorship controls over the paper will be relaxed and the paper will resume its normal publishing schedule on Thursday. Anti-censorship protests outside the paper’s headquarters have reportedly died down.

Yet other online accounts suggest a broader debate over media censorship stirred up by the dispute is far from over. Dai Zigeng, the editor-in-chief of the Beijing News, resigned on Tuesday night after refusing to published a government-penned editorial playing down the controversy. Some Beijing News reporters’ microblog accounts have been blocked, according to online accounts that could not be verified.

“Chinese media people are starting to realise that winter is coming, really winter is coming,” said Michael Anti, a prominent blogger and media commentator in Beijing. “There is no spring of the new administration.”

Authorities issued an “urgent memo” to newspapers this week blaming hostile “foreign forces” for the ongoing conflict and requiring them to run a pro-censorship editorial under the headline: “Southern Weekly’s Message to Readers Is Food for Thought Indeed.”

“The party has absolute control of China’s media,” said the memo, which was leaked to the online magazine China Digital Times. “This basic principle is unshakeable.”

Beijing News and Southern Weekly are owned by the same publishing company, Nanfang Media Group.

According to Associated Press, Hu Chunhua, the top Communist party official in Guangdong province and a possible successor to incoming president Xi Jinping in 2022, personally brokered the negotiations between Southern Weekly’s editorial staff and its party overseers.

Southern Weekly has said censorship of the paper had stepped up in recent years. Propaganda officials’ wholesale rewriting of the editorial, it said, disturbed a nuanced status quo that allowed its reporters to accept party oversight while leaving their journalistic integrity intact.

The newspaper said more than 1,000 of its articles had been censored or spiked under the direction of the province’s top propaganda official, Tuo Zhen, a former journalist who was transferred to Guangdong last spring.

The newspaper called for Tuo Zhen to resign for meddling with the editorial, yet the recent propaganda department memo disputed his role in the interference, indicating he is unlikely to face punishment.

This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

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