SCMP’s new editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei has a lot of explaining to do.
Something is happening at the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, an English-language paper that has long prided itself on its fierce independence and one of the last bastions of serious journalism in this part of the world. Asia Sentinel spills the beans on a heated exchange between a senior sub-editor at the paper Alex Price and the new editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei following a decision to reduce a major breaking story on the suspicious death of Tiananmen dissident Li Wangyang to a brief:
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.
Another must-read by Asia Sentinel on whether the SCMP is going “red” here.