10 November 2000

Watch Out for the Slow Squeeze on Press Freedom in Hong Kong

Martin Lee, chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, urges the world community to help watch out for the slow squeeze on Hong Kong's press freedom.

The media circle and the community at large were shocked when well-regarded China-watcher Willy Wo-Lap Lam announced his resignation from his position as associate editor of the South China Morning Post after being sidelined in the so-called organizational changes in the China section of the paper. The major organizational changes include stripping Mr. Lam of his China editor responsibilities and installing a mainlander in his place. Mr. Lam's resignation has spurred a petition campaign among staff members of the paper and 115 have signed as on 9 November seeking to "reaffirm commitment to editorial freedom."

"There is a strong cause for concern because this whole saga happens just a few months after the paper's majority shareholder, Mr. Robert Kuok, lashed Mr. Lam publicly in a letter to the Post over his report in June of a meeting between the Beijing's leadership and the HKSAR tycoons," said Mr. Lee.

"The South China Morning Post is an influential paper. Its stories and commentaries on Hong Kong and China have earned much credibility and reputation over the years and have helped shape people's, local as well as overseas, views. During his 12 years' distinguished tenure at the Post, Mr. Lam's insights and reports on China have often been quoted. The Democratic Party of Hong Kong is concerned, as Mr. Lam suggested, that "an invisible hand" has been working to "de-politicize" its China coverage and shift the focus to business, social and lifestyle stories."

"If the removal of Mr. Lam from his position as China editor represented a step toward watering down its critical coverage of China, this is self-censorship. Whether the Post's management did it under pressure or did it in an attempt to appease its majority shareholder or even the Beijing leaders, our much treasured press freedom is truly deeply in trouble. The Post will not only tarnish its hard earned credibility and reputation, it will also put Hong Kong in bad light," commented Mr. Lee.

Media Inquiries: Winnie Kwok (9216-3454)



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