‘Little Eye on Big Media’ Special Series: [Part 2: Op-ed, click here for part 1] There is no other newspaper on Earth better positioned than the South China Morning Post to provide coverage of this century’s most important story – China’s rapid rise. Historically, the Post has been the ‘newspaper of record’ for Hong Kong and is better placed than anyone else to observe and analyse Beijing’s growing power and influence. It has over 110 years of experience, is located in the one corner of China that does not restrict the press, and has a newsroom full of multi-lingual journalistic talent to call upon.
The newspaper has, rightly, bagged many awards for excellence in reporting but, like any other media group, has certain pressure points. Critically, for the SCMP – its weakness is often China. The SCMP’s Malaysian owners have extensive business interests across the mainland and stakes in Yurun Food Group, Shangri-la Hotels, Kerry Properties and several transport companies. This, alongside suspicions of direct – or indirect – pressure from Beijing and ambitions to expand across the border, has led to a well-documented watering-down of its criticism of China.
Whilst superb critiques of mainland affairs are still printed every week, any irregularities are alarming as Hong Kong has dropped 27 places since 2010 to 61st on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. It sits at 74th on the Freedom House ranking, now deemed ‘partly free’, behind Mali. Earlier this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists produced a special report this year on Hong Kong’s “cancerous” spate of self-censorship, making reference to the SCMP. Amidst violent attacks, cyber attacks, boycotts and threats, we may be left with only the Apple Daily, a tabloid, as the last paper willing to scrutinise Beijing.
But the SCMP has a choice and, perhaps, a golden business opportunity. It could leverage the talent, reputation and unique place it has in China to position itself as the ‘go-to’ international news wire for trusted news from the mainland. Instead of relying upon state-run news agencies, media organisations around the world could subscribe to SCMP’s dependable news feed, paying a premium for independent reporting, free from interference.