Hanson gave help to Eastern Express
OUTGOING information co-ordinator Mike Hanson has acknowledged helping set up the Eastern Express, prompting one legislator to accuse him of going beyond the legitimate role of a government official.
In a farewell interview with the Sunday Morning Post, Mr Hanson said for the first time that he played a part in the establishment of Hong Kong's third English-language newspaper, although he insisted his role was a minor one.
The local Chinese-language press has long alleged Government House actively encouraged the setting up of the Eastern Express, and even that it recommended Stephen Vines as founding chief editor to Oriental Press Group chairman Ma Ching-kwan. But, until now, there had been no confirmation.
'My role was simply that of giving them some occasional advice. C. K. Ma is a friend of mine and Stephen Vines is a friend of mine, and I'd leave it at that,' he said.
Mr Hanson, who on Tuesday takes up a new post co-ordinating a review of civil service training, insisted he saw nothing wrong in such behaviour and would be happy to do it again.
'In a place like Hong Kong, for anyone dealing with PR, the birth of a mainstream newspaper is to be welcomed, and I would help any such paper get off the ground,' he said.
'Journalists, editors and proprietors of a great many Hong Kong newspapers have come to me over the past couple of years for advice and I've given it willingly, just as I have to the Eastern Express. ' Nor did he express regret at the recent shake-ups at the newspaper which have seen Vines sacked and the departure of several senior staff.
Legislators, already angry about Mr Hanson's new post, were amazed by his admission of involvement in the Eastern Express.
'This will certainly raise eyebrows,' said independent Emily Lau Wai-hing. 'There is a line that has to be drawn between government and the press. To be co-operative is one thing, but to go and advise them in this way is quite another, and is certainly overstepping that line.' Ms Lau warned that such active involvement by a senior government official in the internal affairs of a local newspaper would only make it more difficult to prevent Beijing doing likewise.
'If we want to criticise the Chinese over their manipulation of the press then the Hong Kong Government has to be very careful not to do the same,' she said.
'What on earth would people think if [local Xinhua chief] Zhou Nan went around advising Hong Kong newspaper proprietors on who they should appoint as editor?' Journalists' Association vice-chairman Daisy Li Yuet-wah said it was 'uncomfortable' to hear of Mr Hanson's involvement with the Express.
'I'm not implying this must be some sort of manipulation, nor that there's any evidence indicating Eastern Express' editorial is in favour of him, nor that he is intervening in the editorial, but I don't think it's appropriate to do that.'