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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test