Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Protest Ends in Draw

A compromise has been reached in the Southern Weekly saga, with the journalists agreeing to go back to work and it is believed the Guangdong propaganda chief Tuo Zhen who started the stand off will eventually step down.

The agreement was reached after the provincial party chief Hu Chunhua stepped in to negotiate between the parties on the condition the staff returned to work and no punishment would be meted out.

A source close to the matter added Hu implied that Tuo would eventually be removed, but he wouldn't leave immediately to save face, a usual political tactic.

Earlier the central authorities wanted to blame the incident of pushing for press freedom on "external forces", ie foreigners or overseas activists connected with blind human rights campaigner Chen Guangcheng.

A Global Times editorial said just that, trying to whip up anti-foreign fury in the hopes of directing anger elsewhere.

In fact, the central propaganda authorities ordered all media across China to reprint the fiery nationalistic editorial, but only a few obeyed.

This resulted in at least one casualty. Dai Zigeng, publisher of The Beijing News resigned after he refused to publish the government-sanctioned editorial.

According to three witnesses, Dai told his Communist Party bosses, "I now verbally submit my resignation to you," he said in the early hours of Wednesday.

It was not immediately known of they officially accepted his resignation or not.

However the editorial was published in today's paper, though buried in the back pages of the front section, and without any staff signatures.

The Beijing News is co-owned by Southern Media Group which also owns Southern Weekly.

So it seems the flare-up over press freedom has died down for now, but surely tensions will still be there between editorial and their censors.

While Tuo will slowly fade from the scene, it doesn't mean the government will not continue to control what its media outlets will say, but may have a harder time making them more complicit in its agenda.

As this incident has ended in a draw, we admire Southern Weekly's staff courage in speaking out and drawing attention to the stifling editorial conditions they work in.

What's also interesting is the government's push in recent years to make state-run media even more financially independent, pushing them to have IPOs and such. By becoming less reliant financially on the government, perhaps these media outlets will become more "free"?

We shall see.

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