Mon, Nov 20, 2000 - Page 9 News List

Jiang Zemin interferes in newspaper operations

Willy Wo-Lap Lam, noted Hong Kong journalist, has been fired by his boss, Malaysian tycoon Kuok Hock-nien, for upsetting China's President Jiang Zemin

By Paul Lin 林保華

Rumor had it that Feign was dismissed because of two of his cartoons, which satirized Li Peng (李鵬) and the sale of organs from executed Chinese prisoners, had offended the Beijing authorities. Feign's dismissal gave rise to wide-spread criticism in the media.

Lam's crime -- offending Jiang Zemin -- is much more serious. That was why the boss had to deal with him in person. Of course, the dealing must not be too blatant. After the "letter to the editor," there had to be a probation period for Lam to repent.

But Lam had not only waged a war of words against his "reader" boss, but also written a series of inside stories and commentaries on the annual meeting of Chinese leaders in Beidaihe (北戴河) this summer and the fifth plenary session of the 15th CPC central committee (十五屆五中全會) this fall. Especially, Lam's comments on Beijing's sensitive personnel issues had been widely circulated in both the local and foreign media. Inevitably, this angered Beijing even further. The immediate cause of Lam's dismissal should be an article published at the end of October about Jiang having suffered major setbacks at the CPC central committee meeting. The article was a major blow to Jiang's authority and therefore had everything to do with his hollering act in front of Hong Kong journalists on Oct. 27. Even before Jiang's railing, Beijing's mouthpieces in Hong Kong had already blamed SCMP for going "out of place." The paper had gone beyond what was tolerable to Beijing.

Even if Beijing did not order Lam's dismissal, the SCMP's Kuok family would have known what to do to appease Jiang. Being a successful entrepreneur, Kuok knows how to smooth over the situation and prevent further repercussions. That was why Lam was not dismissed at once, but was simply "held up in the air" (架空) -- he kept his position as deputy editor-in-chief but his job as editor of the China desk was taken over by Wang Xiangwei, who had been waiting for this job for more than five years. One of the other deputy editors at SCMP said that Wang's takeover had come after a long period of preparation.

Lam's case cannot be viewed as an isolated event. Before this, the barrage of attacks launched by pro-communist political figures against a radio station, Beijing's hefty investment in Hong Kong's media groups, and the SAR government's persistent attempts to control the media circles, all lay bare Beijing's scheme to hold the reins of Hong Kong's media. The Beijing regime also wants to boss around other media groups in Taiwan and elsewhere around the world. In fact, some of them have already caved in to this one-party authoritarian regime and started chanting eulogies to it.

Paul Lin (林保華) is a commentator on Hong Kong affairs. He currently resides in New York.

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