NYT on South China Morning Post: Responses

On Saturday, The New York Times published a piece by Javier C. Hernández scrutinizing the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, two years after its acquisition by mainland tech tycoon Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group. Business has reportedly boomed under the new ownership, with online traffic tripling after the removal of the site’s paywall, but many are wary of ’s declared aim of using the paper to counter alleged Western media bias against China.

“By explicitly stating that its aim is to tell a positive story of China and running questionable stories, management undermines the very attributes that make The S.C.M.P. useful in the first place,” said Yuen Chan, a journalist and senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

[…] Gary Liu, a Harvard-educated technology entrepreneur who is The Post’s chief executive, said the newspaper could offer a more nuanced portrait of China than Western news outlets, with a staff of 350 journalists in Asia, including about 40 in the mainland.

[… A] culture of at the newspaper predates its purchase by Alibaba, said Wang Feng, who served as The Post’s online editor from 2012 to 2015. He said top editors routinely rewrote, played down or withheld critical stories for fear of offending influential Chinese officials or business executives.

[…] “The Post risks being a vehicle in Beijing’s overall propaganda machinery,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a former Post journalist.

[…] Chow Chung-yan, who oversees coverage of China and Hong Kong, denied The Post yields to pressure from Beijing.

“We are independent and free,” he said. “We don’t have people calling into our newsroom asking what we will publish.” [Source]

The article prompted an unusually strong reaction on Twitter among journalists, many of them former SCMP staff, and other observers.


 

 

Others, including SCMP’s former editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei, were unimpressed by the NYT report:

 

The Times’ report comes as the U.S. Sinclair Broadcasting group forces its local stations to broadcast what critics describe as pro-Trump "propaganda" on one hand, and the President himself launches fresh attacks on "The ‘Fake News’ Washington Post" on the other.

SCMP also came under some harsh criticism, particularly over its February interview with detained Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai and its coverage of the disappearance from Hong Kong of mainland elite-linked billionaire Xiao Jianhua. In 2016 SCMP also published an interview with "Black Friday" detainee Zhao Wei after her reported release but before even her husband or lawyer had been able to contact her. Wang Xiangwei was confronted over Gui’s case by the BBC’s Stephen McDonell, NGO founder and former detainee Peter Dahlin, and Cornell University’s Magnus Fiskesjö:


 

 

 

Several people cited current SCMP coverage, either in its defense or otherwise:

 


 

The article in question did offer a quote from the Royal United Services Institute’s Raffaello Pantucci which provided some balance to the headline’s claim: "while China clearly has something to worry about, [… it so far] has not shown any evidence of foreign fighters making it back home."

Elsewhere, AFP’s Joanna Chiu, another SCMP alumna, posted an extended Twitter thread citing her previous work for the Committee to Protect Journalists to put the SCMP case in the broader context of media freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan.