Open letter ups the ante in the Southern Weekly incident

Yesterday’s bust-up over the audacious intrusion of Guangdong propaganda leaders into the time-honored tradition of the “New Year’s Greeting” at Southern Weekly is now looking like the first major challenge to Xi Jinping’s politics of (apparent?) openness. In an open letter today, a group of prominent former Southern Weekly journalists, including CMP Director Qian Gang (钱钢), sharply criticize the actions of Guangdong’s propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen (庹震).

The open letter, which describes Tuo Zhen as a bureaucratic tyrant with a long history of strangling the vitality out of Chinese media, ups the ante by publicly challenging the central leadership to show where it stands on the issue of greater openness.

At one point, the letter says: “His actions right now are being seen not just as representing the Guangdong provincial propaganda department, but as many people have asked online: All of these gestures of open dealing and open-mindedness among the new central leadership, are these for real or just for show?”

Our full translation of the open letter follows. Journalists and others are welcome to use our translation (citing us properly, thank you), but we do urge everyone to defer to the original for accuracy:

We are media professionals who formerly worked at Southern Weekly, and we must voice our shared position on the recent “2013 New Year’s Greeting” incident at the newspaper. We feel that what has unfolded over the past two days is a matter of extreme seriousness.

The [original] theme of the New Year’s special edition of Southern Weekly was, “Blazing a New Trail with Untiring Determination: My Dream.” On January 2, after Southern Weekly had signed off on the final proofs, and completely without their knowledge, Guangdong CCP Standing Committee member and propaganda chief Tuo Zhen (庹震) directed that many alterations and replacements be made to the New Year’s special edition. This resulted in numerous errors and accidents.

This unconscionable act resulted in the forced insertion of a text rife with errors in a New Year’s letter that is a longstanding tradition at Southern Weekly, including a grade-school error (低级错误) on the front page, “2000 years ago King Yu combatted the floods.” (This should be 4,000 years ago).

The New Year’s Greeting at Southern Weekly enjoys a strong reputation among the paper’s readers, and this incident quickly burst out, one web user calling it a “rape.” We clearly and fiercely denounce this incident.

It is our view that Minister Tuo Zhen’s actions overstep the bounds (越界之举), that they are dictatorial (擅权之举), that they are ignorant and excessive.

It is our view that in this era in which hope is necessary, he is obliterating hope; in this era in which equality is yearned for, his actions are haughty and condescending; in this era of growing open-mindedness, his actions are foolish and careless; in this era that cares for learning and refinement, his actions are crude and thoughtless.

In recent days, the general attitude at home and overseas following the 18th National Congress has been one of optimism over China’s prospects. This optimism is grounded in the outlook and policy direction of the new leadership. That policy direction includes: Unswervingly pushing ahead with reform and opening, persevering in exercising power under the sunlight [i.e., in an open manner], firmly insisting on the basic principles of the Constitution, and resolutely opposing corruption and bureaucratism (官僚主义).

The actions of Minister Tuo Zhen, in Guangzhou and on the very front lines of reform and opening, are entirely contrary to this policy orientation.

We do not know Minister Tuo Zhen, but on the basis of what we do know, we wish to lay out the following facts. Minister Tuo Zhen formerly served as the editor-in-chief of the Economic Daily, and during his tenure there, he took a newspaper with good prospects for strong performance in the marketplace and turned it into a silent and motionless thing. When he was running the agency in charge of publications at Xinhua News Agency, these publications were so timid they would run from their own shadows, and one leader within the agency said, “In the six months since he’s been running things, the market that these Xinhua News Agency publications have taken with no small difficulty has been entirely lost.” He was then sent to Guangdong to serve at propaganda chief, and at the time there was much talk about how Guangdong media would “die a cruel death.” This in fact has been the case. His time in Guangdong has been the darkest period yet for Guangdong media.

All along Minister Tuo Zhen has himself enjoyed good prospects, and the reason for this is easy enough to understand — the actions he takes are described as duties conscientiously discharged against all criticism “in the interest of the Party.” But we are willing, openly and in good faith, to express our own attitude [view]: His actions run completely against the interests of the ruling Party. Wherever he goes media full of life are cut off at the throat. If media lose all credibility and influence, then we ask, how is the ruling Party to speak? How will it convince the people? It can be said that the actions taken by this minister cause the people and the ruling Party to part ways in their thoughts and conduct. How is that possibly in the interest of the Party? His actions right now are being seen not just as representing the Guangdong provincial propaganda department, but as many people have asked online: All of these gestures of open dealing and open-mindedness among the new central leadership, are these for real or just for show?

As former staff at Southern Weekly, we understand only too well the difficulties facing the newspaper. For many years, it has survived in Guangdong with great difficulty. It has had moments of misfortune and moments of glory. It has been branded all sorts of things. But in the end, [the paper] is a just a group of young people with ideals, even as “ideals” at present meet with mockery. Essentially these ideals are the hope that their own country can be better, the hope that their own people can live happily. This newspaper has for many years been a paper that sincerely loves its country and its people. The people [who work] there hope, in a spirit of good-will, that their country can be better. History can attest, and will continue to attest, to the sincerity of their hopes.

Finally, we clearly and assuredly support our former colleagues still at Southern Weekly. Whether out of loyalty, a sense of justice or the principles dear to our hearts, we stand together with them. We oppose this brutal style of dealing with the news media. This style arises in part from the bureaucracy (官僚主义) and in part from personal interests. But this style is catastrophic both to the media and to the interests of the ruling Party.

How can a country determined to become a culturally strong nation employ methods lacking culture to manage culture? How can a country that is building its international image permit people to use rude and arbitrary methods that damage the country’s reputation?

We hereby make the following appeal:

1. That Minister Tuo Zhen be deemed unsuited to hold his current position and forced to resign according to Article 14 of Provisional Regulations on the Resignation of Party and Government Cadres (党政干部辞职暂行规定), issuing a public apology.
2. That the honor and responsibility of those Southern Weekly editors and reporters who have voiced their objections be recognized and that no punitive actions be taken against them. Also, that their Weibo accounts be reinstated immediately.
3. That the editorial committee of Southern Weekly be allowed to resume its normal operations.

————-

我们,曾在南方周末工作过的媒体从业者,为该报“2013新年献词”事件,不得不表明共同立场,我们认为这两天发生的事情极为严重。

南方周末2013年新年特刊主题为“筚路蓝缕、不懈不止:家国梦”。1月2日,在南方周末已经签版定样、编辑记者休假、完全不知情的状态下,广东省委常委、宣传部长庹震,指示对新年特刊做出多处修改、撤换,并导致多处错误、事故。恶劣无极者,当属在南方周末经典性的新年献词中强行塞入错误频出的文字,以致头版出现“2000年前大禹治水”(应为4000年前)的低级错误。

南方周末新年献词在读者中享有盛誉,此事爆出,被网友恶评为“强奸”。对这一事件,我们明确地、强烈地表示谴责。

我们认为,庹震部长所为是越界之举、擅权之举、愚昧之举、多此一举。

我们认为,这是需要希望的年代,他在泯灭希望;这是渴望平等的时代,他高高在上;这是变得开明的时代,他行事颟顸;这是讲究教养的时代,他粗暴无礼。

最近几天,海内外普遍对18大后的中国抱持乐观,这些乐观基于新的领导人所体现的精神面貌和施政方向,这些方针包括:毫不动摇地坚持改革开放,坚持将权力放在阳光下运行,坚定地坚持宪法的基本原则,坚决地反对腐败和官僚主义。

而庹震部长,在中国改革开放最前沿之地广州的所作所为,完全与这些方针相悖。

我们并不认识庹震部长,但基于我们了解的情况,愿意说出以下事实:庹震部长曾经在《经济日报》社担任总编辑,在其任职期间,将一家本有希望在市场上一显身手的报纸,整到无声无息;其在新华社分管社办报刊期间,社办报刊风声鹤唳,万马齐喑,社内有领导称,“他再管上半年,新华社这些社办报刊好不容易占领的市场,将全部失去”;其后去广东任职宣传部长,当时就有传言称广东媒体“将死得很惨”,事实果真如此,其在广东工作期间,是广东媒体业最黑暗的时候。

而庹震部长一直仕途腾达,我们理解其中道理,因为他的所作所为会被说成为了“党的利益”忍辱负重,但我们愿意公开而且善意地表明态度:他的他的所作所为,与执政党的利益完全背道而驰。他所到之处,充满生机的媒体被掐断喉咙。如果媒体失去公信力和影响力,请问,执政党靠什么来发声?靠什么说服人民?可以这样说,这位部长所做的事情,让人民和执政党离心离德,怎么可能会有利于党的利益?现在他的所作所为,已被认为不仅仅代表广东省委宣传部层面,正如网上很多人在问:中央新领导集体这些天所营造的开明开放,究竟是真的还是假的?

作为曾经的南方周末人,我们也深知报纸之不易,多少年来它在南粤大地艰难生长,它有过失落也有过辉煌,它曾被贴上各种符号,但事实上,那里有的不过是一群有点理想的年轻人,即便是在“理想”被嘲笑的当下。这份理想往大了说,是希望自己的国家变得更好,希望自己的人民能幸福生活。这家报纸多年来都是一份真诚地爱着自己国家、人民的报纸,那里的人们怀着最多的善意,希望国家更好。它的拳拳之心,历史可以证明,历史还将继续证明。

最后,我们明确无疑地支持留在南方周末的前同事们。无论出于义气、道义还是我们心中的准则,我们都与他们站在一起;我们反对针对新闻业的粗暴的管理风格,这些风格有的出自官僚主义,有的出自个人利益,这样的风格无论对媒体,对执政党的利益,都是毁灭性的。一个立志要做文化大国的国家,怎么可以用这么没文化的手段管理文化?一个正在建立国际新形象的国家,怎么可以允许有人擅用蛮横落伍的手段,降低国家声誉?
为此,我们呼吁:

1、根据「党政干部辞职暂行规定」第十四条规定,庹震部长不宜再担任现职,需要引咎辞职并公开道歉。
2、对于提出抗议的南方周末编辑记者,认同其荣誉感与责任感,不予处罚。立即恢复他们的微博账号。
3、南方周末编委会恢复正常运转。

One Comment to “Open letter ups the ante in the Southern Weekly incident”

  1. JOHN says:

    WHY do the Chinese people put up with this ridiculous situation?

    You should have had another revolution YEARS, no sorry DECADES ago …

    Just like RUSSIA, IRAN, and other similar dictatorships where people are opressed by despots.

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