One colony, many voices in the press

China-funded newspapers go for jingoism, while others cover local scandals, writes Angelica Cheung

Recent visitors to Hong Kong would think that the biggest story in the British colony is not its return to China, but the family drama of a mega-rich movie star. His wife, 30 years his junior, and their four rebellious children, battled bitterly over his reported pounds 40m fortune.

For weeks, the story became an obsession in Hong Kong - knocking politics and financial news off the front pages in the Chinese press, and making the most gripping television soap look dull. To add extra spice to the story, there were allegations of mysterious lovers, triad connections, drug-taking and incestuous behaviour, stripping bare the public image of a model showbiz family.

The story, which mixed elements of Dallas and Coronation Street, was a welcome relief from heavy-weight handover politics. In general, Hong Kong people do not have much enthusiasm for politics, and this is reflected in the contents of the Chinese press, read by more than 95 per cent of the population.

There are more than a dozen daily Chinese-language papers, which, like those in Britain, are divided into tabloids and broadsheets. Both categories tend to use domestic stories on their front pages, relegating foreign news to a close second. While the two English-language papers in Hong Kong are wary of libel laws, the Chinese press sails perilously close to the wind, naming names and making detailed assertions and allegations.

The handover coverage of the Chinese press has focused on how issues will affect people's lives in a practical sense, rather than a philosophical debate over patriotism. But there are exceptions - the China-funded newspapers have been trying all they can to create an atmosphere of jingoistic pride at the return of Hong Kong to China after 150 years of colonial rule.

The China-backed papers carry endless reports and editorials to prove how wise the "one country, two systems" is, how enthusiastic Hong Kong people are towards the handover, and how caring the Chinese leaders are towards Hong Kong people.

Western criticism of China's human rights problems, the popularity of the Democratic Party, and polls showing Hong Kong worries over restricted freedom and corruption from China after the handover, are completely ignored by these papers. Their boring, lecturing style, dull layout and propaganda content attract few readers in Hong Kong. However, because they are the only "Hong Kong" newspapers allowed to be circulated in China, most Chinese believe that they truly represent the opinions of the Hong Kong public.

Quick to spot which way the wind is blowing, most Hong Kong papers, owned by pragmatic businessmen, are leaning further towards the official Communist Party line. Some even look for chances to slap Governor Chris Patten in the face, to win favour from their new Chinese bosses, while the tone and wording of their editorials are increasingly like those of the Communist propaganda mouthpiece.

In a recent editorial, the mass-market Oriental Daily described Mr Patten as "a defeated gambler unwilling to leave the gambling table" and "his blood-shot eyes [show] his inveterate hatred towards the People's Liberation Army".

It concluded that Mr Patten was "a weak mantis who cannot stop the historical chariot" - a line most often found when cursing the "anti-revolutionaries" in China, during its most turbulent Cultural Revolution period.

Even the Sing Tao Daily, which used to support the Kuomintang in Taiwan, became a keen supporter of the China-appointed provisional legislature and the post-handover leader, Tung Chee-hwa.

The daily and weekly owned by fiercely out-spoken and anti-Communist publisher Jimmy Lai, are the most daring Chinese publications when it comes to criticising China. However, their editorials are more of the "Li-Peng-Is-A-Turtle-Egg" style than products of reasoning.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal remains the only paper daring to criticise the Communist regime with rational, in-depth analysis. It criticises China's suppression of freedom, asks the leaders to trust Hong Kong people, gives candid advice on China's relations with the outside world and advocates a free market economy with as little government intervention as possible.

Its honest attitude and popularity among educated readers make it a thorn in the side of Peking representatives. Last year, the New China News Agency, China's unofficial representative in Hong Kong, carried a comment piece, pointing directly at "a business paper", warning that it should concentrate on business instead of politics.

Soon after, readers found the editorial written by a knowledgeable and sharp-minded veteran journalist was quietly relocated as a column in an inside page.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent