The SCMP and rumours of its increasing self-censorship have become the focus of Al-Jazeera’s media commentary programme, the Listen Post. The 10-minute TV segment looks into recent incidents of alleged Beijing influence on editorial policy, framing the debate via interviews with bloggers, journalist and media commentators.
“Journalists and news consumers alike talk of increased self-censorship in the news media, and to buttress their argument, they point to papers like the English language South China Morning Post,” explains presenter Richard Gizbet by way of introduction. “The paper’s editorial line on China is looking more and more as if it was crafted in Beijing, and in the newsroom one can hear the sounds of discontent.”
The programme focusses mainly on allegations of bias since current editor Wan Xiangwei — the first mainlander to take the regularly re-casted role — came to the SCMP in 2012. Since this time, the contract of Beijing-based writer Paul Mooney, who regularly criticised mainland policies, was terminated, and the death of Li Wangyang, an outspoken anti-China activist, was resigned to a small space in the News Briefs section of the paper, despite widespread public interest in his apparent suicide.
Such issues came to the forefront of social consciousness in Hong Kong when emails between Wan and sub-editor Alex Price, in which Price accused Wan of self-censorship by ‘nibbing’ the Li Wangyang story, were apparently leaked. Wan made it clear in his reply that he had no obligation to explain his actions, and that such dissent would not be tolerated.
SCMP columnist Alex Lo, however, insists that the publication gives equal space to all voices, pointing out that Occupy Central organiser Benny Tai penned an op-ed piece for the paper, while former justice chief and pro-Beijing figure Elsie Leung continues to enjoy plenty of coverage.
The issue of ownership within Hong Kong media as a whole is also addressed, with Al-Jazeera pointing out that the owners of the SCMP, the Kwok family, have growing ties to the mainland, as does Tiong Hiews King, the owner of Ming Pao Daily News. Sing Tao News Corporation Chairman Charles Ho and Hong Kong Economic Journal part-owner Richard Li were also singled out for being members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
After a “Global Village Voices” segment consisting of Skype interviews with Hong Wrong blogger Ton Grundy and Economic Journal reporter Benny Kwok, the programme concludes:
“Almost 17 years after the handover, Hong Kong is at a crossroads. And perhaps beyond it, Beijing is exercising more and more control, and Hongkongers are concerned over what they are seeing in their city and reading in their media.”
This programme illustrates perhaps better than ever the need for a fifth estate in Hong Kong.
Photo: YouTube screenshot