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China's Southern Media Group Turns Back on Anti-Censorship Supporters

A group of journalism students in China expressed their support for Southern Weekend against censorship in early January 2013. Image from Non-commercial use.

The year 2013 began and now ends with anti-censorship drama of liberal Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend.

The Southern Media Group, which owns Southern Weekend, issued testimony in November 2013 that helps the prosecution of activists who took part in an anti-censorship protest in early January outside corporation's building. Southern Weekend had issued an editorial appeal for readers’ support against the provincial propaganda department's pressure to rewrite its New Year editorial.

Activists Guo Feixiong, Liu Yuandong, Sun Desheng were prosecuted by the Guangzhou police of disrupting the public order in the protest. Guo Feixiong was accused of being the mastermind behind the protest in support of the newspaper and has been detained since August 2013.

According to the written testimony submitted to the police, which was made public on September 27, 2013 via Wen Yunchao, the public gathering outside the building between January 6 to 9 obstructed their daily work as people and vehicles could not enter freely from the front gate. The company had to open the side gate for their staff and some meetings and activities were cancelled.

Guo Feixiong's lawyer, Chang Xuezhong, explained the impact of the testimony at the trial on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo. His post was deleted quickly. Zhou Sheng backed up his tweet in his article, “Better For Southern Weekend to Die Back Then Than Being Alive for Today's Humiliation” (南周 恨不当年死 留作今日羞):


The Southern Media Group's explanation is to assist the police's prosecution [against Guo Feixiong] by providing the evidence of disturbing public order. Back then, Southern Weekend urged people to support them and now it claims their supporters had affected their work. The white is turned into black, people's good will is avenged. It helps the bullies to bully the weak.

The Southern Media Group's statement has outraged many. Yu Jianrong, a famous public intellectual, said on Weibo (post deleted but backed up by Zhou Sheng):


The most regretful thing this year was to express my support for Southern Weekend. I even changed my profile picture into grey-coloured “Southern Weekend” back then. Now I have to apologize to my readers and promise that if Southern Weekend fails to report and explain the situation objectively and fairly, I would never accept the paper's interview again and would never write for this paper.

Matthew Pang, a former employee of Southern Media Group, urged his former colleagues to speak out against the corporation's statement:

For a long period of time, the Southern Media Group had enlightened the media industry, but now it has turned into a tool for oppressing those who demand democracy and freedom. Here I have to make a moral “threat” to my ex-colleagues from the media group: If you keep silent about such an immoral statement, we are no longer friends. If you are blind to those who once supported you out of justice, you are an insult to the journalistic profession.

Wen Yunchao has been keeping track of reporters and editors who have spoken out against the statement. Within a day, about 20 employees from the Southern Media Group had bashed the paper's testimony. She Feike, who was also working at one of the media outlets owned by the Group in January 2013, wrote:


I resigned around the end of February and left my position officially at the end of March. The incident happened in January and I was still a member of the editorial team in the Southern Metropolis Weekly which is also owned by the Southern Media Group. From what I witnessed, I did not see any disruption from outside forces that affected our magazine's production. The news beat operated normally. As one of the former Southern Media Group's employees who had signed the statement [against censorship], I am grateful to Liu Yuandong and Guo Feixiong, among other citizens who expressed their support to the media group.

Dai Zhiyong, a columnist and staff member of the media group,  said:


The statement has broken the bottom line [of one's morality] that I have to voice out my disagreement. I don't think the people gathered outside the front gate affected my work. Supporters or opponents, they have the right to express their opinion and judgement.

Chief Editor of the opinion page at Southern Metropolis Daily of the Media Group Su Shaoxin said:


I am Su Shaoxin, Chief Editor of the opinion page at Southern Metropolis Daily. Between January 7-8, I had my regular meeting at 4:30 p.m., everything in our editorial work was normal. The leaders [of the propaganda authorities] signed our page before printing as usual. It was as normal as any other time during of our department's work in the past 2.5 years. This is a statement for clarification.

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