Those in the United States who are watching China point to a trend toward increased control of the Hong Kong media by the Beijing government, a pattern which began when the former British colony reverted to Beijing's control in 1997.
The South China Morning Post, for example (long considered Asia's leading newspaper for providing a realistic glimpse into China) has been purging veteran journalists deemed critical of the Communist regime.
This week, the Post fired its widely respected Beijing bureau chief, Jasper Becker, for alleged insubordination. The newspaper's China editor, Wang Xiangwei, used to work for the Communist Party controlled China Daily, the regime's propaganda outlet .. Veteran reporter Jasper Becker, author of a number of books on China and North Korea, was dismissed on Monday for refusing to cooperate with Wang.
His dismissal follows a meeting between Becker and the paper's editor Thomas Abraham earlier this month when Becker complained at being refused the usual permission to go to Tibet on a 10-day working trip.
The South China Morning Post has also started carrying news and feature stories from Xinhua, the official news service of China.
Speaking on Hong Kong radio on Tuesday, Becker said, "I went to see the editor a couple of weeks ago and I said that someone was making it impossible for us to cover our normal reporting duties".
"We were downplaying and ignoring major stories in China and I felt this was becoming noticed among journalists and in the diplomatic community in Beijing".
Becker said the Post had downplayed stories about Falun Gong, and had not sent reporters to cover major events such as Falun Gong's takeover of a TV station last year [Ed Note: Falun Gong practitioners did not takeover a TV station. The practitioners tapped into the TV's stations programs to broadcast footage revealing the persecution of Falun Gong in China]. Also industrial unrest in China's provinces has been ignored.
Mr. Becker, who has worked for the paper for seven years, said the turning point for him was when the South China Morning Post was reclassified as a domestic newspaper. After that, he said, stories on Falun Gong, Tibet, and human-rights abuses were discouraged.
Human rights groups have expressed concern that Hong Kong newspapers have since the 1997 handover of the territory from Britain to China been prone to self-censorship.
Hong Kong is supposed to maintain a free press under its post-handover mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
"I don't know to what extent they've been pressured to do this," Mr. Becker said in an interview yesterday. "I wonder if they do it voluntarily, to curry favour with Beijing."
Ominously, the Hong Kong government, which exists at Beijing's pleasure, is planning to create an 'antisubversion' law in the next year or two, which many believe will censor the press there in the same way that it is in China.
"It will make it a treasonable offence for Hong Kong journalists to contradict the government line on Tibet, or Falun Gong," Mr. Becker noted. "The newspaper is already acting as though the law is in place."
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