By Alexander Suarez – Staff Writer
Recent events in China surrounding government censorship and a weekly newspaper have sparked much attention.
International Relations Professor Thomas A. Breslin, referred to the events as a “…testimony to the intention of the Communist Party of China to maintain its control over the media.”
The Chinese newspaper, Southern Weekly, had scheduled to release their annual special edition on Jan. 1, 2013.
According to a press release from Chinese Media Project, former writer for the Southern Weekly, Qian Gang, stated “the issue is highly anticipated by readers, and the process of getting the issue out is painstaking. This is especially true when everything you do is so carefully scrutinized.”
As the Southern Weekly sought to complete their New Year edition in December 2012, for the first time editors were required to get prior approval from the propaganda department of the communist party of China. The review from the propaganda office led to further prior-authorizations, which led to censoring the paper and editing the New Years editorial that envisioned a future constitutional China.
New York Times writer, Didi Tang, stated that 60 journalists from the Southern Weekly submitted a complaint after the unexpected edits were discovered. Tang noted that 35 former reporters requested that Provincial Party Propaganda Chief Tuo Zhen should step down from his position.
As the news spread, a peaceful demonstration formed outside the gates of the Southern Weekly for several days to protest peacefully against government censorship.
Amidst all this, the Southern Weekly went ahead and published corrections to the censored New Year’s edition, receiving no heavy corrections from the propaganda office.
Raul Reis, dean for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, celebrated these events as hopeful.
“This is a really positive development overall” said Reis. “I am taking an optimistic look at that and seeing it as the first cracks in the media censorship in China. The fact that it’s becoming public, not only public that censorship happens, but also being publicly discussed.”
According to a press release from the South China Morning Post, writer Li Jing states that an agreement was formulated to keep the propaganda office from requiring prior approval for story ideas and rough drafts.
“I think this incident is important but not game-changing,” said Bin Xu, professor of Sociology and Asian Studies.
Xu explained that although central and local governments conceded in this case, their actions might be a strategic move rather than a long-term, institutional change.
“Nevertheless, those incidents could have a cumulative effect on reforms of the system: gradually they might force the system to make small concessions and changes until a point, as everyone sees that institutional reforms instead of small changes is what China needs. This might take quite a long time,” said Xu via email.