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Not a daily affair

Nandita Jayaraj
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A protester stands with a banner to support journalists from the Southern Weekend newspaper in Guangzhou, China.PHOTO:AFP
A protester stands with a banner to support journalists from the Southern Weekend newspaper in Guangzhou, China.PHOTO:AFP

They’re calling out for freedom of press,

Let us say what we think, no more no less,

Tuo Zhen is their foe,

Will he stay or will he go?

All eyes on Jinping, will he clean up the mess?

Something very unusual is happening in China. Journalists of a newspaper are protesting against government censorship. They are enraged after an editorial they wrote which called for change in China was found to be changed into a piece that praised the ruling party. What is making news is not the apparent censorship, but the fact that people are protesting. To understand why, you need to know a little bit about how China works.

Media in China

China, officially the People’s Republic of China, is single-party state. The Communist Party of China maintains a unitary government in China, meaning that the central government is supreme and the state, military and most of the media are under the centre.

The constitution of China states that its citizens enjoy freedom of press, but in practice this is doubtful. China’s constitution also states that it is the duty of citizens to “fight against those forces and elements [...] that are hostile” to their socialist system. This duty often interferes with the people’s rights.

Any form of dissent in China is usually not tolerated. But the internet is making it difficult for the Chinese government. They tried to silence dissenters by banning Facebook and Twitter. China’s own social media platform called Weibo is allowed, but there are occasional reports of censorship there too.

What happened now?

Chinese media houses are supervised by propaganda departments which ensure that published material does not deviate too much from the party’s agenda. Tuo Zhen is the propaganda chief of a newspaper called Southern Daily which is popular for its investigative reporting that often tests the limits of government tolerance. He is believed to be the one who changed the critical editorial into a party-praising one. Protesters are demanding that Tuo Zhen resign because his tendencies are becoming dictatorial. China’s new leader Xi Jinping is generally appreciated for his laidback governance, and people are waiting to see how he handles the Southern Daily situation.

nandita.j@thehindu.co.in


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