Pic: AP.

Beijing mouthpieces given more space and prominence, reports Asia Sentinel

Hong Kong’s 110-year-old flagship English language paper, the South China Morning Post, is suffering another round of self-inflicted crisis. Editorial staffers despair of its confused policy direction on local and China news coverage. Disenchanted journalists are leaving or being let go. It is losing its cachet as a beacon of independent journalism.

The paper historically has been important well beyond Hong Kong. With its network of correspondents, it has been regarded as an indispensable source of information on China by governments, analysts and businessmen across the region if not across the world. With Chinese President Xi Jinping putting an ever-tighter leash on mainland reporting, the Post’s diminishing critical reporting is a slowly closing window on mainland affairs.

Today the newsroom is demoralized and angry at what reporters regard as unwarranted manipulation of copy beyond normal sub-editing for style, flow and length. In some cases critical paragraphs were grafted on under reporters’ bylines rather mysteriously.

Staffers who spoke to Asia Sentinel did so on anonymity as they feared being fired if instances cited were too specific. Hong Kong political content and China news seem to suffer the heaviest ghosting.

The paper continues to win prestigious industry awards for its content. On June 11 it scooped four awards for journalistic excellence at the Society of Publishers in Asia annual banquet. However, it has switched with a surprising urgency to featuring prominent pro-Beijing personalities on its front pages in the guise of “interviews” to issue dire warnings on Occupy Central and the futility of political reform beyond what Beijing will allow.

Valuable front page space has become in-your-face propaganda which does little for the paper’s credibility or the professional reputations of its editors and journalists. Editorial columns once respected for clarity and firm policy positions now hem and haw between criticism and justifications for controversial local and national government policy. It can’t be fun for the leader writers forced to vacillate.

Deputy editor Tammy Tam manages to spin CY Leung’s dismally poor record on senior appointments in government and statutory bodies, as a determined chief executive putting trusted placemen into key roles for effective implementation and smooth relations with Beijing.

“Appointments may fly in the face of meritocracy but the city’s leader needs people who can help him” is how this hollow public relations piece masquerades as news in the City section of its June 16th edition.

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