China casts long shadow as Hong Kong paper stands accused of censorship
HONG KONG (Reuters) - A prominent Hong Kong newspaper has come under fire for downplaying coverage of the death of a Chinese dissident, stoking new concerns that Communist Party rulers in Beijing are seeking to limit the former British colony's media freedoms.
In a tumultuous year for Hong Kong that will see a new pro-Beijing leader take power on July 1, the 15th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, the controversy involving the South China Morning Post has focused attention on perceived attempts by Beijing to rein in moves towards democracy.
On June 7, the English-language Post printed a full story on the suspicious death of Chinese dissident Li Wangyang in hospital on the mainland, but in an abrupt about-turn, cut the story back to a news brief buried in the back pages.
Li had just been released from more than 22 years in jail for his role in the June 4, 1989, pro-democracy protests in Beijing when he was found dead in hospital in Hunan province, his neck tied with a noose made from bandages. Authorities said it was suicide, but his family suspect foul play.
Prominent coverage by other Hong Kong media helped generate a public outcry, protests and a rare request by Hong Kong's leader for an investigation into the tragedy by Beijing.
In a tense email exchange circulated widely in media circles, Alex Price, a sub-editor at the paper, asked his Chinese editor-in-chief, Wang Xiangwei, why the story was cut down in a way that "looks an awful lot like self-censorship".
"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," replied Wang, a member of the advisory body for China's rubber-stamp parliament, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress.
The reply triggered a newsroom backlash at the Post, where reporters say they've long been concerned by a creeping, invisible Beijing hand. A petition was signed by several senior staff, demanding full transparency and press freedoms.
"ETHICS AT STAKE" Continued...