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Urgent memo blasts online newspaper in China

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 8:08 p.m.

BEIJING — Declaring that Communist Party control over Chinese media is “unshakable,” the government's main propaganda organ on Tuesday appeared to take a hard line against the anti-censorship protesters at the offices of the Guangdong newspaper Southern Weekly, and warned darkly that mostly unnamed foreign agitators were behind the unrest.

The “urgent memo” from the ruling party's Central Propaganda Department was sent to media heads and local party chiefs. It was obtained and translated by the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post and the Web site China Digital Times, which regularly publishes edicts from China's censorship authorities and is derisively called the “Ministry of Truth.”

“The party has absolute control over the media, and this principle is unshakable,” the memo said, according to the various translations. “External hostile forces are involved in the development of the situation.” The memo said that every “work unit” must immediately “demand that its department's editors, reporters and staff discontinue voicing support for Southern Weekly online.”

The protests began last week when the reform-minded Southern Weekly's editors and reporters complained that a front page New Year's Day message to readers — expressing the “dream” that China would soon be ruled by a constitution — was substantially rewritten and watered down into an obsequious ode to the Communist Party. The editors claimed the text was rewritten without their knowledge by the party's Guangdong propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen, who has become the principle target of the demonstrators' ire.

A largely online protest by the journalists quickly gathered steam around the country, drawing support from noted actors and actresses, writers, business tycoons and others to decry heavy-handed government censorship of all Chinese media.

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