China fails to see the funny side

Hong Kong/ fears for press freedom

IT IS NOT hard to see why Chinese officials would have been pleased to hear that the South China Morning Post had axed its "World of Lily Wong" cartoon strip. Few Chinese politicians or bureaucrats are known for their sense of humour. Larry Feign's cartoons about selling the organs of executed prisoners in Chinese jails and jokes about Premier Li Peng must have strained their patience to the limit.

But the axing of the strip immediately set off alarm bells about press freedom and the growing tendency for self-censorship ahead of the Chinese takeover in 1997.

David Armstrong, the Post's editor-in-chief, insisted that there was no question of political pressure or self-censorship. He said it was purely an economic decision related to an overall cut in editorial costs. Indeed, swingeing staff cuts were made immediately afterwards.

But when news of the strip's demise became known early last week, few people believed Mr Armstrong. Prominent legislators joined the queue of those expressing concern. This was not the first time they had seen what appeared to be self-censorship dressed up in other clothing.

Jonathan Fenby, former editor of the Observer, who had just arrived on the premises to become editor of the Post, still seems a bit dazed to have come into a new job immediately surrounded by controversy. "I know as a journalist one disbelieves most of what one is told, but there is a very good budgetary reason for this," he said.

Possibly the most blatant case of self-censorship occurred at the end of last year, when the colony's number two commercial television station, ATV, pulled its most popular current affairs programme, News Tease, which featured Wong Yuk-man, an outspoken journalist who likes to call a spade a spade and refers to China's leaders as "dictators".

Virtually nobody believed the station was acting without pressure. Nor did they accept the explanation of ATV's rival TVB that a BBC documentary about the private life of Mao-Tsetung was not shown because there was no suitable slot in the schedules.

Press freedom is guaranteed in the Basic Law, or mini-constitution, for the new Hong Kong after 1997. The trouble is that the guarantee has come from China - where 20 journalists are currently serving jail sentences, including Xi Yang, a Hong Kong- based reporter, arrested two years ago for "stealing state secrets". He had written stories about the price of gold which would not have raised an eyebrow elsewhere in the world.

The signs of change are growing more clear by the day. Practically all the Chinese language dailies, with two exceptions, are now firmly lined up with the Chinese government in opposing Governor Chris Patten's modest democratic reforms.

Even the Ming Pao Daily News, a paper with a strong reputation for independence, seems to be swaying with the wind. On 1 January it carried an editorial calling for world affairs to be looked at "objectively, independently and fairly" - that is, through a Chinese prism. It would not have been out of place in Peking's People's Daily. Ming Pao is making efforts to get into the Chinese publishing and television market, as is the Sing Tao group, controlled by Sally Aw, once a supporter of the Taiwan government and therefore beyond the pale as far as China was concerned. Last week she reassured readers of her newspapers that there would be no changes to editorial freedom after 1997.

She may be right. Many journalists, particularly those active in the Hong Kong Journalists Association, fear that the changes will take place well before then.

Suggested Topics
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker