THE United Daily News and the Express News , which closed yesterday, had a combined readership of just under five per cent of all newspapers in English and Chinese. Despite their relatively small circulation the papers were considered two of the most talked about dailies in town. The Express had twice beaten its competitors by carrying the full texts of major official documents. In 1984, it had an exclusive with the Sino-British Joint Declaration in full, hours before the accord was scheduled to be unveiled. The story has often been hailed among journalists as the scoop of the decade, since the Joint Declaration, which defines how Hong Kong is to revert to Chinese rule in 1997, is the most important constitutional document for the territory since the Treaty of Peking of the last century. However, the Chinese authorities were less tolerant of the paper a few years ago. A woman reporter from the paper was arrested and forced to sign a confession in Beijing, after she had faxed a draft of the Secretary-General of the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang Zemin's report for the party congress to the Express. The document was treated by the Chinese Government as a state secret. About two years ago, the paper's editorials were written by a staunch critic of the Chinese regime, Wong Yuk-man. The writer had continued to contribute to the Express, until he became involved in a court case recently. The paper had not appeared to have shied away from lashing out at Beijing, at least as far as its political columns were concerned. Yet the same paper had been named by the Hong Kong Journalists' Association for undue self-censorship. A regular column in its feature section was dropped. The contributor insisted she was a victim of political censorship. The case even attracted the attention of the Legislative Councillors and was discussed in the assembly. The Express had been haunted by rumours of financial difficulties over the past couple of years. The price war had dashed its last hope for a much-needed financial injection. Unlike the Express, the Hong Kong United Daily News could tap the resources of its parent group in Taiwan. After the folding of the Hong Kong Times, the United Daily News had remained the only paper in Hong Kong which was funded directly by Taiwanese. When the paper was launched in May 1992, its investors from Taipei were frank to admit that they were ambitious to use their Hong Kong arm to influence the mainland. During its heyday, the paper had a circulation of about 60,000, especially when carrying excerpts from the memoirs of the former head of the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua (the New China News Agency), Xu Jiatun. Mr Xu, who is now in exile in the United States, is the highest ranking cadre in the Chinese hierarchy to disclose how Beijing had formulated its policy towards Hong Kong. But the paper failed to sustain its momentum. Less than one per cent of the local readers subscribe to the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po. The United Daily News was trailing even behind the Chinese mouthpiece in terms of popularity. The United Daily News covered the Hong Kong cultural arena extensively. For freelance journalists however, it will probably be remembered as one of the most generous publishers in rewarding its contributors.