Freedom of speech subject to legal restriction

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-25 0:18:01

Jiaxing Daily, a Party newspaper in East China's Zhejiang Province, announced on its official Sina Weibo account Sunday it had fired commentator Wang Yaofeng. Wang paid the price for comments he made that attacked the Party and challenged the country's political bottom line on significant issues. But in an era typified by diverse career paths, for many people such a price is no longer unbearable.

Wang published many Weibo posts that did not match his job position. He wrote that "Jiaxing people have the tradition of resisting dictatorship. In history, the Party was born here; and today Jiaxing people are also capable of ending it here." Another comment he published on Weibo said "If there is a war between China and Japan, I will definitely stand by the democratic Japan, not the autocratic China."

Although Wang later deleted the posts, screenshots kept by Net users are still floating on the Internet. Many who disagree with Wang said he broke a bottom line. They called Wang a "system bitch" - one who works inside the Party system but nevertheless resists it - and demanded that Jiaxing Daily dismiss him and even look into his legal responsibility.

Wang's online supporters stressed that as Wang posted the comments on his personal Weibo account, not in the newspaper, he should be exempt from punishment by the newspaper since it was his personal "freedom of speech."

So can a Party newspaper commentator publicly attack the Party on Weibo and make comments Net users perceive as radical?

In early 2013, China's media regulation authorities required media outlets to strengthen management of journalists' personal Weibo accounts, especially in regard to political comments.

In the same year, the Associated Press issued social media guidelines for its employees, stipulating that staffers "should not make any postings that express political views."

It is understandable Jiaxing Daily made the decision to sack Wang. In the past couple of years, a group of people like Wang tried to be a winner both inside and outside the system. They occupied a job within the system, while seeking fame on the Internet through publishing radical comments, purposely violating Party discipline. This way of profiteering is probably no longer sustainable in the future.

Wang does not suit a position in the Party newspaper. There are others like Wang who oppose mainstream values. These people no longer face the treatment that they would have faced a few decades ago. In today's China, diversification should be highly cherished, rather than abused.

Law also enjoys authority in terms of speech. It is radical to claim that comments should be exempt from restrictions of law. China may need to make some efforts in shaping a social consensus in this regard.

Posted in: Observer

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