SCMP reporting of Tiananmen activist death under fire
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SCMP reporting of Tiananmen activist death under fire

So why was Li Wangyang’s suicide not news – at first? asks Asia Sentinel

A decision by the South China Morning Post’s new editor in chief, Wang Xiangwei, to reduce a major breaking story on the suspicious death of Tiananmen dissident Li Wangyang in a Hunan hospital to a brief has kicked off a new controversy at the paper.

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Protesters in black dress hold up portraits of Chinese labor activist Li Wangyang, during a protest march to mourn for his death in Hong Kong, Sunday, June 10. Pic: AP.

Alex Price, a senior sub editor at the paper, sent Wang an email saying “A 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?”

Wang answered curtly: “I made that decision.” When Price asked in a subsequent email: “Any chance you say why? It’s just that to the outside world it looks an awful lot like self-censorship,” it generated an explosion from Wang.

“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.”

“Li Wangyang, a good man died for his cause and we turned it from a story into a brief. The rest of Hong Kong splashed on it,” Price responded. “Your staff are understandably concerned by this. News is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations. Please explain the decision to reduce the suspicious death of Li Wangyang to a brief. I need to be able to explain it to my friends who are asking why we did it. I’m sorry but your reply of “it is my decision, if you don’t like it you know what to do” is not enough in such a situation. Frankly it seems to be saying “shut up or go.”

The paper subsequently went all-out on the story, carried a full focus page devoted to the matter, plus editorials, two columns by Wang and other stories. “Yet on the day it counted we reduced the story to a nib. Journalistic ethics are at stake. The credibility of the South China Morning Post is at stake. Your staff – and readers – deserve an answer,” Price said.

Price subsequently sent the email exchange to a wide range of colleagues and others. He is said to fear for his job.

The exchange has raised fears that what has long been regarded as one of Asia’s most influential English-language voices has begun to bow to Beijing under Wang, the paper’s first mainland-born editor and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel