South China Morning Post (SCMP)’s staff had the unpleasant surprise last Thursday, August 30th, to discover that three officials from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were attending their editorial meeting as observing guests. Their “visit” was part of a farewell tour for Sun Zhen, the spokesperson of the Ministry, who was accompanied by his successor, Lee Hua.
SCMP, the long-standing Hong Kong English-language newspaper founded in 1903, has been subject to growing influence from Beijing since its acquisition by Chinese conglomerate Alibaba in 2016. Early this year, SCMP took part in a parody of interview, staged by Beijing, with Swedish journalist Gui Minhai who has been arbitrarily detained in China for three years.
RSF reasserts that an editorial meeting, where news pitches and their treatments are discussed, is a sensitive occasion.
“Against the backdrop of growing interferences from Beijing, which poses a threat to press freedom in Hong Kong, it was natural that the journalists would perceive the officials’ presence as a form of intimidation, said Cédric Alviani, Director of the RSF East Asia Office, who urges the managers of SCMP “to be vigilant about anything that might call into question the editorial independence of journalists.”
In a recent report, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) denounced a new fall in press freedom in the former British colony. Originally placed 18th at the creation of the RSF World Press Freedom Index in 2002, Hong Kong is now ranked 70th out of 180.