A Chinese newspaper where journalists had gone on strike to protest government censorship has published its weekly issue as scheduled, but is urging Beijing to reform its media control policies.
The Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly was available in several parts of the country Thursday, following reports that editors at the progressive paper had reached a tentative deal with Communist Party officials.
The latest issue made no direct mention of the dispute. But in a subtle sign of continued resistance, it published an editorial that said Beijing's methods of controlling the media must “keep with the times,” and called for “reasonable and constructive media” to be protected.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered for a fourth straight day outside the newspaper's heavily guarded headquarters, apparently testing the patience of authorities. At least two demonstrators were hauled away by plainclothes police. Journalists were also ushered away from the building Thursday.
Protests also continued on social media, where many Chinese celebrities and public figures have expressed support for the paper, despite censors' efforts to limit discussion on the matter.
The dispute began after editors at the Southern Weekly complained that a New Year's editorial calling for greater rights had been replaced by one that praised the Communist Party.
An unknown number of journalists at the paper, which has a long-standing reputation for pushing Beijing's limits on freedom of speech, walked off the job in protest.
But reports surfaced Wednesday that the journalists had agreed to return to work after they received a verbal commitment that authorities would no longer censor their work before publication.
Although exact details of the agreement remain unclear, many reports say it included assurances that the striking journalists would not be punished. When contacted by VOA, staff at the paper said they were not in a position to discuss the matter.
Some observers say the reported deal amounted to a small victory for the journalists, while others say it merely represents a return to the status quo.
Although the dispute at the Southern Weekly appears to have been resolved, the controversy looks to have widened to include its sister paper, the Beijing News.
Several unconfirmed reports suggest Dai Zegeng, the editor of the Beijing News, resigned after propaganda officials forced the paper to publish a state media editorial blaming the Southern Weekly controversy on “external activists.”
Beijing appears to have no intention of handing the rebel journalists any broad concessions. A leaked Central Propaganda Department directive circulating online suggests that “hostile foreign forces” were responsible for the dispute and insisted that government control of the media is an “unwavering basic principle.”