NINETY years of commitment to the people of Hong Kong were celebrated last night at a gala attended by about 700 of the territory's leading personalities. It was a time to remember how the South China Morning Post, as Asia's leading English language newspaper, shared the triumphs, the fears and the setbacks of Hong Kong's past 90 years with its most valued friends - the readers. The occasion was marked by the presence of Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, Hutchison tycoon Li Ka-shing and hundreds of other guests embracing the entire spectrum of the local community. As part of the Post's 90th anniversary celebration, one lucky reader from Hunghom had his entry drawn from thousands of envelopes to become the winner of a Mercedes-Benz C180 sedan - the first of nine to be given away during the coming weeks. The spirit of the Post's history was probably best captured in a brief speech delivered by one of Asia's best known businessmen and Post chairman, Robert Kuok Hock Nien, when he spoke of the addiction he has always had for the information and insight this newspaper provides on local and world events. He also said it was important that the political impasse between China and Britain be settled on a country-to-country basis and that the news media not become a pawn in the argument. Mr Kuok said he was a firm believer in freedom of the press and that the local media should strive to work for the good of Hong Kong. South China Morning Post chief executive Lyn Holloway chose to emphasise the importance the newspaper placed on employing a specialist team able to provide the most comprehensive coverage possible for people in the 60 countries in which the Post is read. He said it was through a policy of always employing the best available people that the Post would continue to provide the premier newspaper of its kind in the region. Editor David Armstrong described the newspaper as ''fiercely independent'' offering an unbiased view of world events complemented by interpretation, analysis and entertainment. The anniversary celebration staged at the JW Marriott Hotel was completed by a toast to the past 90 years and the 90 years and more still to come for what has become Hong Kong's newspaper of record. Last night's event, including the draw for one of nine Mercedes-Benz, was screened by TVB Pearl. Ng Tak-wah was the lucky winner, but if you missed out, there are still plenty of chances to drive away in luxury. Each Thursday for the next eight weeks, TVB Pearl will screen the draws for the line-up of Mercedes-Benz still left in the prize pool.