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Chinese Journalists Protest Government Censorship

January 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we turn to China, where there were more demonstrations today over government censorship of a newspaper.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: Protests over press freedom in China turned into scuffles today in the southern city of Guangzhou. Supporters of the Southern Weekly newspaper, known for its relatively freewheeling style, faced off with Communist Party supporters.

The showdown has been brewing since New Year’s Day. Staffers say censors force them to run this tribute to the party, instead of a planned editorial calling for political reforms.

The journalists went on strike and they quickly drew support from local people, who laid chrysanthemums at the paper’s headquarters to symbolize the death of free speech.

MAN (through translator): This act of suppressing the freedom of the press should be changed. Otherwise, it’s going to be detrimental to the public interests of knowing the facts.

WOMAN (through translator): I’m here to say the Southern Weekly is not alone. There are lots of people supporting them.

RAY SUAREZ: In response, the communist-run Global Times newspaper warned no media outlet can occupy a political special zone. But the protests quickly drew support from scholars, celebrities and micro-blogs across China.

And late today came reports the local Communist Party chief has offered to let Southern Weekly’s journalists avoid punishment if they call off the strike. In addition, censors would lengthen their leash on the paper’s content.

The dispute has played out as Xi Jinping is ascending to the leadership of the party and the government, amid hopes he might allow some political reforms.

Despite those hopes, Chinese officials have lately ruled that Internet users must give their real names to Internet service providers and Internet companies in China are now under orders to delete and report any posts deemed offensive to authorities.