Journalists at Southern Weekly, a major Chinese newspaper, have gone on strike in a rare protest against censorship.
The row was sparked last week when the paper’s New Year message calling for reform was changed by propaganda officials.
Southern Weekly’s staff wrote two letters calling for the provincial propaganda chief to step down. Another row then erupted over control of the paper’s microblog.
Supporters of the paper have gathered outside its office, reports say.
Some of the protesters carried banners that read: “We want press freedom, constitutionalism and democracy.”
Chinese media are supervised by so-called propaganda departments that often change content to align it with party thinking.
Southern Weekly is one of the country’s most respected newspapers, known for its hard-hitting investigations and for testing the limits of freedom of speech.
The row erupted after a New Year message which had called for guaranteed constitutional rights was changed by censors into a piece that praised the Communist Party.
In response, the newspaper’s journalists called for the Guangdong propaganda chief’s resignation, accusing him of being “dictatorial” in an era of “growing openness”.
In two open letters 35 prominent former staff and 50 interns at the paper demanded Tuo Zhen step down, saying the move amounted to “crude” interference.
On Sunday night, a message on the newspaper’s official microblog denied that the editorial was changed because of censorship, saying that the “online rumors were false”.
The microblog updates, said to have been issued by senior editors, sparked the strike among members of the editorial team who disagreed with the move, reports say.
Almost 100 editorial staff members have gone on strike, saying the newspaper is under pressure from authorities.
It is thought that this is the first time that there has been a direct showdown between newspaper staff and party officials.
How the case is handled is seen as a key test for Chinese officials, installed just two months ago in a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, observers say.
censorship, chinese media, freedom of speech, southern weekly