‘Little Eye on Big Media’ Special Series: An investigation by Hong Wrong has uncovered a culture of self-censorship by reporters as well as editorial interference from senior staff at the South China Morning Post. It has also been revealed how staff resisted an attempt to scrap an acclaimed multimedia project on the Tiananmen Square massacre in the final moments before publication.
Whilst no-one at the Post was willing to speak on record, the blog interviewed several current staff members on the condition of anonymity. Journalists complained of poor morale, a high staff turnover and a rise in instances of sensitive stories being scrapped, diluted, ‘buried’ or removed – all under the leadership of Wang Xiangwei, the Post’s first mainland-born editor.
The blog learned that most articles are still published without hindrance. The degree to which a report may be distorted depends on the sensitivity of the topic, the time frame and which editors are involved. One source spoke of how some reporters writing critical pieces involving the mainland exercised an “excess of caution”, bypassing what they knew to be a better angle for fear of conflict with the management. However, the blog was also told that, in some instances, sub-editors attempt to moderate skewed stories before publication.
On other occasions, pieces that feature criticism of the local and national governments may travel back-and-forth between writers and senior editors, who will adjust how the story is framed and insist on more ‘balance’ or emphasis to highlight the authorities’ point of view. Controversial stories may be ‘buried’ deep within the print edition, or never make it past the online edition. In some cases, stories have been removed months later – without public explanation – from the website.
There was no evidence that staff were being formally instructed on what to report on, but Wang and deputy editor Tammy Tam allegedly “discourage” writers from pursuing certain stories, leading some to fear for their jobs or threaten to quit.