Former SCMP Hacks Appeal to Change Paper's Direction
Asia Sentinel - Former SCMP Hacks Appeal to Change Paper's Direction
Written by Our Correspondent
SUNDAY, 15 JULY 2012
Open letter to Exec Director Hui Kuok expresses concern that paper seeks to please Beijing
Twenty-four journalists who formerly worked for the South China Morning Post have written an open letter to the paperâ€™s group executive director, Hui Kuok, expressing their concern that critical coverage of China is being abandoned in order to please the Communist authorities in Beijing.
The letter, signed by journalists who are now based in different parts of the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Beijing, Australia and the UK, expressed concerns about the developments at the Post, It is the latest salvo in the war over the English-language dailyâ€™s journalistic soul in the era of editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei, the mainland-born journalist who traces his antecedents to the Chinese governmentâ€™s state-owned China Daily and his membership in the Jilin Chinese Peopleâ€™s Consultative Congress.
Critics both inside and outside the paper say Wang has been steadily getting rid of western journalists and replacing them with colleagues from Beijing, particularly the China Daily. Hui Kuok is the youngest child of Malaysian sugar tycoon Robert Kuok, who bought a controlling interest in the newspaper in 1993. She is responsible for the media groupâ€™s operations and businesses. It has long been pointed out that the Post, while never particularly aggressive, has throughout the last several decades been one of the most complete recorders of news about China from its vantage point in Hong Kong. Both Willy Lam and Jasper Becker, bureau chiefs in Beijing, were fired long before Wang came on the scene in February.
â€œThe South China Morning Post has never been a radical publication, but it has served the people of Hong Kong for 100 years by providing them with accurate and timely information,â€ the letter said. â€œIt is now widely believed that the paper's main priority is no longer to continue this fine tradition, but to please the authorities in Beijing.â€
The current controversy at the paper broke open in early June when Alex Price, a senior sub-editor at the paper, questioned a decision by Wang to reduce a major breaking story on the suspicious death of Tiananmen dissident Li Wangyang in a Hunan hospital to a brief.â€¨
Price sent Wang an email saying â€œA lot of people are wondering why we nibbed the Li Wangyang story last night. It does seem rather odd. Any chance you can shed some light on the matter?â€ That generated a series of emails during which Wang said â€œI donâ€™t have to explain to you anything. I made the decision and I stand by it. If you donâ€™t like it, you know what to do.â€
After some additional exchanges, Price sent the emails to some colleagues who leaked them to outsiders. Asia Sentinel broke the story on June 19 and subsequently Hong Kongâ€™s Chinese press had a field day with it. Remarkably, Price has so far managed to keep his job.
Wang later sought to justify his decision to the staff by saying the story over Liâ€™s death had received little or no coverage on CCTV, the Chinese governmentâ€™s stated-owned television news service.
â€œThe latest dispute over the curtailed coverage of the Li Wangyang story has angered a great many of the Post's traditional readers and supporters,â€ the former Post journalists said in the letter. â€œIt suggests that the charges of the paper's critics are justified. We understand that news judgments have to be made in haste and occasional errors are to be expected. â€œSome of the explanations for the Li Wangwang decision suggest, though, that a change in policy has taken place. The idea that the story needed to be downplayed because it had received little or no coverage on CCTV is unworthy of the Post's traditions as an independent and enterprising newspaper. CCTV no doubt has a role as a source of information. If used as an indicator of news values it is a source of ignorance.
â€œWe are distressed to hear that a senior editor who asked about the decision was told that "if you don't like it you know what to do". We would like to believe that this was a careless piece of phraseology penned in a moment of excitement but it sounds suspiciously as if staff are no longer expected to understand or support the newspaper's policy, merely to follow instructions.
â€œWe are concerned by all this not only because we were once happy and proud to work for the Post, and do not like to see its reputation deteriorate, but also because the newspaper has historically been an important civic resource for the people of Hong Kong. It will be a serious public loss if the newspaper continues to go downhill.
â€œThe constant changes in the editorship of the Post suggest that either the owners do not know what they want, or they want something that no credible senior journalists will provide. We urge you to protect and cherish the South China Morning Post's traditions of independence, truthfulness and service to its readers.
â€œWe urge you to ensure that stories are evaluated on the basis of their interest to Hong Kong readers. We urge you to ensure that Post journalists are able to work according to an explicit and understood editorial policy. We urge you to encourage the newspaper's management to give civil answers to civil questions. We hope that our connections with the Post will continue to be a source of pride, in its continuing commitment to independence, accuracy and public service.â€
Inside the paper, there seems to be little indication that Wang and his management team are paying any attention to the criticism. One source told Asia Sentinel the editor continues to tighten his grip, extending his influence to the editorial page and arguing that more pro-China and pro-Hong Kong government editorials appear.
The signatories to the letter follow:
â€¢ Kitty Au
â€¢ Jonathan Braude
â€¢ Jasper Becker
â€¢ Barclay Crawford
â€¢ Ellen Chan
â€¢ Will Clem
â€¢ Steve Cray
â€¢ David Evans
â€¢ Katherine Forestier
â€¢ Danny Gittings
â€¢ Tim Hamlett
â€¢ Fong Tak-ho
â€¢ Lydia Ho
â€¢ Carol Lai
â€¢ Chloe Lai
â€¢ Willy Lam
â€¢ Angel Lau
â€¢ Shirley Lau
â€¢ Eddie Lee
â€¢ Lieu Siew Ying
â€¢ Sheila McNamara
â€¢ James Moore
â€¢ Paul Mooney
â€¢ Dustin Shum
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written by Prince, July 15, 2012
This open later is a most welcome development, and people outside the paper need to keep pushing this message to the Kuoks.
As your writer suggest, Xiangwei has continued to tighten his grip within the paper. Last week two senior journalists were let go. The retirement age on the SCMP is 60, after which some journalists are kept on on a a series of one year rolling 'contracts." Staff can still be fired at a month's notice but it is a device so that the paper no longer has to pay MPF and medical. contributions. A senior and highly competent journalist was let go last week to clear the way so that other younger journalists could be promoted. This is seen as a pretext by Xiangwei to get rid of senior (gweilo) journalists he doesn't like. Others are expected to follow as their contracts come up for renewal. Their positions can be filled with younger journalists more amenable to his bullying tactics, and less likely to stand up to him. As recent events have indicated the paper is already in a steady downward spiral and unless he is checked it will accelerate. It is surprising the controlling Kuok family has been so complacent while the value of the SCMP brand is being trashed by this monster. He is an incompetent journalist, a bad manager, and is hated by the staff - Chinese and westerners alike.