Government told to stay out of paper price war

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 January, 1996, 12:00am

JOURNALISTS and media executives yesterday opposed government intervention in the newspaper price war, despite expressing fears that newspaper quality would deteriorate.

'The blunt answer is 'don't even touch it' ,' Raymond Wong, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong News Executives' Association, told a Legislative Council information policy panel meeting.

He said readers should determine which newspapers survived, but admitted: 'The quality [of newspapers] will not improve as long as the price war lasts.' Hong Kong Journalists' Association executive member, Fong So, expressed fears publishers would concentrate resources on the price war at the expense of quality.

He was worried more papers would close, resulting in fewer independent voices and a less diversified industry.

Mr Wong's views were shared by Democratic Party legislator, Fred Li Wah-ming, who said government intervention was unnecessary because price was not the only deciding factor.

Even if the price of the People's Daily were to drop to 20 cents, its market share in the territory would not increase tremendously, Mr Li said.

Hue Pue-ying, chairman of the Hong Kong Chinese Press Association, said: 'Persistent losses due to low selling prices may force the surviving newspapers to reduce production costs, resulting in lower quality which is detrimental to the development of the newspaper industry.' He warned that the price war would end in disaster.

Yesterday, his association joined forces in the Newspaper Society's appeal to the newspaper industry to end the price war.

Since the Oriental Daily News dropped its price from $5 to $2 last month, triggering a price war, four newspapers and one magazine have folded, $100 million in revenue and 590 jobs have been lost, the managing director of Hong Kong Daily News, Simon Lun Siu-ming, said.

The Newspaper Society is now calling for a cease-fire among members and non-members by setting up a special committee, to be chaired by Mr Lun.

Legislator Mr Li described the issue as 'interesting but contradictory' because Mr Lun's paper was the one which had made the deepest cut from $5 to $1.

'I am against war. But when the war takes place within my borders, I have no alternative but to participate in it,' Mr Lun said, adding that he expressed 'regrets upon regrets' over the price war.

Instead of forcing a uniform price, Mr Lun said a recommended price was needed for all Chinese-language newspapers.

Pamela Chan Wong Shui, chief executive of the Consumer Council, said the Government had commissioned the council to study whether the territory needed a fair trade law.

She said the report would be completed by the middle of this year but the price war would be only one of the areas studied.