Hoping to deliver forbidden news to a China muted by censorship, the L.A. Weekly has joined in an international press campaign that is trying to break through government restrictions by sending bogus copies of the official Communist newspaper via the fax machine to support the pro-democracy movement.
A spokeswoman for the L.A. Weekly said the Nov. 9 issue will contain excerpts from what appears to be the Communist newspaper People's Daily, the Chinese government's official publication. Headlines declare in Chinese, "We Must Unequivocally Oppose the Unrest," but a closer reading reveals a pro-democracy message.
The Weekly will also publish 6,500 phone numbers to facsimile machines located inside China. Readers will be encouraged to transmit the pages that include photos of the Chinese government's bloody military crackdown in Beijing in June and articles that provide eyewitness accounts.
This is the Weekly's way of demonstrating its support for China's struggling democracy movement, spokeswoman Julie Thompson said.
The fax machine has been a prime tool in efforts to circumvent censorship in China. The "globalization of communication" is forcing China to be more accountable, Thompson said.
Joining the Weekly in the campaign is New York-based Spy magazine.
"It seemed like a wonderful new form of protest," Spy magazine editor Graydon Carter said. Spy, known for its biting satire, is planning to devote four of its pages to the cause.
The Weekly and Spy are to date the only U.S. publications that have agreed to participate in the campaign organized by the French magazine Actuel, a monthly that editor Christophe Nick likens to such U.S. publications as Rolling Stone and Mother Jones.
In September, Nick coordinated the publication of the bogus People's Daily with articles written by Chinese journalists in the United States.
The counterfeit imitates the original's red-colored logo, but in the upper right-hand corner, the name is translated into English as "Peking's Daily."
Unlike the headlines, the articles blast the government's suppression. Along with accounts of the crackdown are jokes and an editorial cartoon mocking the Chinese leadership, plus a doctored photo suggesting that Deng Xiaoping should be put on trial.
Nick and two compatriots in September smuggled 600 copies into China.
"They loved it very, very much when they read it," Nick said in a phone interview from Paris.
The French editor said that while in China he met some students who had witnessed the bloodshed, but after a barrage of government propaganda, they found themselves doubting their own memories.
One student, Nick recalled, said: "I don't know anymore what is true and what is wrong."
The experience, Nick said, confirmed the need for alternative newspapers.
In a real overseas edition of the People's Daily on Oct. 24, the Chinese government attacked the phony People's Daily that had been published by the French, describing it as a "clumsy" copy containing lies and decadent language.
"We feel indignant," said Ye Dabo, vice consul in the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles.
"It's a despicable way of expressing one's view through forgery, which we believe even the American public would not accept," Ye said.
Other bogus copies of the People's Daily published here in Los Angeles by the pro-democracy movement apparently have succeeded in fooling even some employees and guests of the consulate at an Oct. 1 rally. Demonstrators passed out copies of both the counterfeit Daily and the Alhambra-based Press Freedom Herald, a Chinese language opposition newspaper that was started in June. The Press Freedom Herald was typically refused, but the bogus Daily was accepted by some, said Herald Editor Cao Changqing.
Copies of the Herald have been smuggled into China--sometimes by fax machine. One Beijing journalist was recently arrested for distributing the "counter-revolutionary" Herald, Cao said.
In addition to the Weekly and Spy, participants in the international campaign include such publications as Face in Great Britain, Pratt in Sweden, Klik in Greece and Caos in Brazil.
One campaign objective is to establish a radio station that would broadcast pro-democracy news into China from a ship that would be stationed in international waters. Nick said his magazine has raised $80,000 toward the estimated $1-million cost.
After Actuel began sending the pro-democracy newspaper to China, the Chinese government lodged vehement protests with the French government, demanding that it halt the magazine's activities. The protests failed.
The possibility of similar Chinese protests has not deterred the U.S. publications.
"So they protest. I don't care," said Jamie Malanowski, a senior editor at Spy.