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2013年1月11日 (金)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 10
EDITORIAL: China cannot keep suppressing calls for freedom of speech

In China, where the Communist Party maintains an outright monopoly of power, a newspaper’s recent fight with the authorities over censorship has set off a growing chorus of calls for freedom of speech.

The greatest of tributes should be made to the journalistic integrity of the paper’s editors and reporters who have voiced protests despite the threat of punishment, and to the courage of citizens who have expressed their support for the journalists. The Chinese government’s attempt to crack down on the protest deserves to be strongly criticized. Beijing should realize that it cannot silence voices for freedom through oppression.

The censorship dispute broke out after an article in a New Year's special edition of the Southern Weekly, a newspaper based in Guangdong province, was rewritten in response to an order by the local propaganda authorities without the knowledge of many reporters on the paper.

Angry reporters published the original article on the Internet and criticized the authorities. A wave of support for the newspaper’s editorial staff arose and spread across the country.

Expressions of support have not been limited to posts on the Internet. A large number of citizens gathered in front of the headquarters of the newspaper to protest the propaganda authorities' action in a rare display of public anger in a country where demonstrations are strictly controlled.

Other media have also expressed their solidarity with the protesters. At the Beijing News, journalists resisted an order from the propaganda authorities to print an editorial carried in a different paper.

In China, news media are seen as the mouthpiece of the party and the government. The authority’s intervention in editorial content has long been the norm. Even so, the latest move by the propaganda authorities to rewrite the Guangdong paper’s content apparently went beyond the limit of journalistic tolerance.

The Communist Party’s Propaganda Department has started taking steps to tighten its grip on the media, claiming that hostile foreign forces are involved in the campaign for media independence. There have been reports that activists supporting the Southern Weekly have been detained on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.”

The gap between rich and poor has been widening rapidly in the country’s economic development, creating a growing sense of inequality among citizens. The Communist Party fears that its power base could be undermined unless it keeps a tight control on the press.

Even if its efforts to keep a tight rein on the media prove effective in the short term, the government will not be able to suppress the growth of public demand for freedom of speech for long periods as the amount of information available to the people keeps exploding due to the development of the Internet.

Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping visited Guangdong province in December, immediately after taking office, and announced his intention to promote reforms and an open-door policy. Xi has also called for efforts to change the party’s culture, such as avoiding excessive wining and dining and making meetings simpler.

The Southern Weekly’s original article before it was rewritten was headlined, “China’s dream, the dream of constitutional rule.”
 「中国の夢 憲政の夢」。それが、南方週末の書き換え前の記事の題だった。

The opinion piece was apparently regarded by the propaganda authorities as a criticism of the political and social reality of the country, where the law often tends to be ignored amid arbitrary rule by men in power. But Xi has stressed the importance of respecting China's Constitution.

The latest conflict is shaping up as a litmus test of whether Xi is really serious about his calls for change to secure the long-term political viability of the party or if he is only paying lip service to the cause.


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