It was indeed a shock to me to learn that the century-old English newspaper South China Morning Post, also the oldest newspaper in Hong Kong, has been headed by a mainlander, Wang Xiangwei, since February this year. This venerable English newspaper always had a foreigner or Hong Konger as its editor-in-chief. What is so special about Mr Wang?
He is certainly distinguished in the sense that he is a former China Daily reporter and current member of Jilin province’s Political Consultative Conference (i.e. advisor to Jilin government). He was born and educated in mainland China, moved to Hong Kong in 1993 and joined SCMP in 1996. Since his appointment as SCMP’s China desk editor, he had earned himself the name of censor (see Wall Street Journal’s 26 June article ) and since his appointment as editor-in-chief, “he’s recruited several other Mainland staff, so many that Putonghua is frequently heard in the hallways.” (Zhongnanhai Blog)
Given this context, it is little wonder about the controversy over SCMP. In fact, were it not for this controversy I would not have known that SCMP has its first mainland editor-in-chief. I guess you may have heard about it – Wang Xiangwei removed a piece of article about the suspicious death of a Chinese dissident, slighting it into a brief, and consequently had an imperious encounter with a sub-editor who challenged his judgment. He told the sub-editor : “I don’t have to explain to you anything. I made the decision and I stand by it. If you don’t like it, you know what to do.” He sounded like a thug.
The appointment of such a person as Wang Xiangwei with poor judgment and hardly any people skills and possibly with little integrity, and the controversy he has created, are evidence of this venerable English daily’s continuous decline on the back of a string of controversies over the years, involving the sacking of columnists and editors who were critical of China.
The decline of SCMP and its self-censorship only adds to the already deteriorating press freedom in Hong Kong. In a most recent survey done by Hong Kong Journalists Association, nearly 90% of journalists say HK’s press freedom has been eroded significantly over the past few years. This is a nearly 30% increase over the figure of a similar survey carried out by the Assocation in 2007.
The controversy surrounding Wang Xiangwei and SCMP as well as the survey finding is telling: HK’s press freedom is in real danger. The powerful influence of Beijing is simply everywhere. Even a century-old leading English newspaper has chosen to curry favor with it.