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  • Jul 12, 2014
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My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 3:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 3:45am

A news junkie can't get his fix in China

A pan-democrat reader once taunted me: "If you love China so much, why don't you go live on the mainland?"

As much as I love the motherland, I can't live without the American and British news media, and you only have limited access to them across the border. You learn to discount their US-centric bias, which is a minor irritant. I know this is an unpatriotic thing to say. But while I could conceivably do without HBO on pay TV, as a news junkie, I just can't function without The New York Times, Bloomberg, BBC, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal (sans its right-wing editorials). They are regularly blocked wholesale for long periods or censored on individual stories.

Beijing has apparently declared war on these news groups. The visa applications of more than 20 journalists from The New York Times and Bloomberg, according to the Times' columnist Thomas Friedman, have been held up, apparently in retaliation for their digging into the massive wealth allegedly amassed by the close relatives and associates of some of the nation's top leaders. Many experts believe Beijing was angered because that crossed a red line.

Well, I am no sinologist but those stories in the past two years exposing the dodgy official wealth are among the best reporting I have seen.

But why weren't those stories exposed by Hong Kong and Taiwanese journalists and their organisations when they are closer to the source without the pressure of official censorship to which their mainland counterparts are subject.

At this point, my pan-democrat critics will scream, "self-censorship". I am sure there is an element of that.

But we are talking about dozens of news organisations here. Self-censorship for all of them? That would be more effective than state censorship. I think a more insidious reason has to do with the relative low pay and social prestige of local reporters, at least relative to the foreign media. This means it's hard to retain those who have shown real talent, drive and courage. When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Those who prove to be no monkeys but lions quickly jump ships and join the more prestigious - and far-better paid - foreign news groups.

But you can argue that low pay is a form of self-censorship.


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News companies are hierarchical organizations. There are managing editors, publishers, owners, etc. If the managers in the local media have no experience of investigative reporting, or if the owners don't value investigative reporting, it won't happen.
Yes, it's surprising that no local reporter thought of investigating the finances of senior party officials.
It's odd this desire to say "I love the motherland." China often mentions "anti-China forces" in its rhetoric. Does anyone ever become "anti-China?" Anti-communist, yes, who wouldn't be? But anti-China?
While everybody lies, free-market prices seldom.
In Hong Kong,
you pay peanuts, you get monkeys;
you pay diamonds, you get a rental commercial shop in Russell Street.
While expensive things may not be good,
good things must be expensive in a free market.
What's the average retail shopping rent in Shanghai?
Shanghai is claimed to have surpassed Hong Kong in overall competitiveness.
They have forgot that Russell Street is now the most expensive street in the world.
One thing is certain.
If those world-record cross-country or cross-city comparison lists are not supported by free-market-determined prices (like the wealthiest person in the world, the street with the highest retail rent, the most commercially successful singer in the world, etc), you don't have to take them too seriously.
You can say whatever you like, but your true preference is most reliably revealed by your true willingness and ability to pay (your own money).
(Carlos Slim Helu & family, Russell Street in Hong Kong, Madonna)
(Actually the richest ‘person’ in the world is the Wal-Mart family.)
Mr. Lo, that's a very daring statement, to declare that you love China. Did you see the 8 comments here, none support your view and more bashing on your thoughts and even personal looks will follow. I find it so amusing because I have never paid any attention to your photo, I care much more about the contents of your column for which I have always offered a silent support. Why silence? Because I am a coward and seldom dare to say that I love my country and proud to see how far it has moved forward in the last 3 decades. Of course there are many social problems but overall the living standard have improved so much that HK people are actually jealous of our cousins' new found wealth. Of course the locals will never admit it and they dislike mainlanders for 1000 reasons. SCMP is even bashed for running a full front page about the moon landing. HK people are a sad lot, Tabloids with sensational stories about celebrities written by journalists who dont even have to do research except to take a few photos and dream up their own version of "Breaking News", will continue to sell. The current standard of local reporters, journalists is quit sad.
I'm not sure why people keep accusing Alex Lo of being Pro Beijing. Although AL may be patriotic, he's also very free thinking and not at all a CCP bootlicker like that other mouth frothing columnist who occasionally writes for the SCMP and China Daily.
What is "patriotic?"
Could German during the Nazi Regime be "patriotic," but not believe in the Nazi Party or what they are doing?
I think its fair to say that in some cases, "Patriotism" needs to be put on the back burner for a while until there are some real changes. We don't have that yet in China and there really is nothing to be "patriotic about." Most Hong Kongers are aghast at what the Mainland government does and how their citizens behave.
Based on the performance of China in the last 30 over years, Chinese corruption is bad, but corruption, both legal and illegal, in many other countries including the US is much worse. This is suppression of a very substantial material fact in the Western media and their clones.
Moreover, the Western media are not only mouthpieces of their owners, but also instruments of subversion in other countries, especially those they consider to be their countries’ competitors in some ways.
It looks like the 19th century all over again. The then superpower insisted it was “free trade”; China found it was opium. Now the 21st century superpower insists it is “press freedom”; China finds it is subversion.
In both cases, Chinese lives are lost and Chinese people get hurt.
In both cases, Chinese laws and traditions are not respected. Foreigners insist they got the right to impose their rules, regulations, values and god on the Chinese people in China.
It now remains to be seen whether the 21st century is any difference from the 19th.
All you need is a decent VPN subscription and you can get all the news you want in China. When are you moving?

The argument that Western journalists make more money and hence are doing better investigative reporting is completely ridiculous. Does Mr Lo have even a shred of data to support this alleged pay differential? If there is one place where journalists these days earn peanuts, it is probably the US, where blogging, the free online distribution of newspaper content, and the decline in advertising revenue for print media have all lead to closures, job losses and pay cuts across the industry.

Serious investigative reporting is about editorial independence, persistence and the right mindset. Read up on what Alan Rusberger has recently said about the topic for a start.

If the SCMP lacks in that department (and oh boy, yes it does), and indeed appears to prefer putting empty vessels like Philippe Costeau on the cover of its weekend magazine and consecrate nearly its entire front page to pretending putting a ping pong table with wheels on the moon is a 'Giant Leap,' then don't hide behind silly, groundless excuses about supposed pay differentials, and look further as to why that is.

If the SCMP would double your peanut allowance, would you suddenly bring us decent investigative reports and stop saying sorry in advance every time you say something that just might sound like criticism of Beijing? I doubt it.
“can't live without the American and British news media”
“learn to discount their US-centric bias”
But not everybody is like you
In HK as open or close as it is
we have more than our fair share of simpletons
ethno-cultural self disparagers
who feel superior by deprecating their compatriots
those who happily pay an absurd premium to rubbish western media
HK is actually more open than USK
There if anyone there tries anything like
the kind of anti government rubbish so rampant here
sHe’d soon enough get more heavily wired than a tube amplifier
Worse if that person happens to be an Arab holding a USK passport
sHe would soon enough be kidnapped to Gitmo or some similar place
You just about earned your peanut today, Alex.
I see the SCMP's budget also no longer covers decent photos.
To lighten up myself from the impenetrable AL’s train of thoughts this morning; I will only speculate AL is also a snack junkie by judging of his standing up photo. Or he is just attending to too many business lunches. Let me wait for his follow up.




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