Guangdong chief offers deal in Chinese paper censorship row-source

Tue Jan 8, 2013 12:15pm EST
 
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By John Ruwitch and James Pomfret

GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - The Communist Party chief of Guangdong province stepped in to mediate a standoff over censorship at a Chinese newspaper on Tuesday, a source said, in a potentially encouraging sign for press freedoms in China.

The source close to the Guangdong Communist Party Committee said Hu Chunhua, a rising political star in China who just took over leadership of Guangdong province last month, had offered a solution to the dispute that led to some staff at the Southern Weekly going on strike.

The drama began late last week when reporters at the liberal paper accused censors of replacing a New Year letter to readers that called for a constitutional government with another piece lauding the party's achievements.

Under Hu's deal, the source said, newspaper workers would end their strike and return to work, the paper would print as normal this week, and most staff would not face punishment. "Guangdong's Hu personally stepped in to resolve this," the source said.

"He gets personal image points by showing that he has guts and the ability to resolve complex situations. In addition, the signal that he projects through this is one of relative openness, it's a signal of a leader who is relatively steady."

The standoff at the Southern Weekly, long seen as a beacon of independent and in-depth reporting in China's highly controlled media landscape, has led to demands for the country's new leadership to grant greater media freedoms.

The apparent concessions by authorities in the dispute could be seen as an indicator of new Communist Party leader Xi Jinping's reformist inclinations.

It wasn't possible to immediately corroborate Hu's involvement in brokering the deal with editorial staff, who may be bound by an agreement not to speak out.   Continued...

 
Demonstrators hold banners, portraits of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong, and Chinese national flags next to policemen outside the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, January 8, 2013. REUTERS/James Pomfret