Observers and journalist groups reacted with indignation yesterday after Albert Ho Chun-yan reported that Beijing's liaison office had accused a Hong Kong newspaper of 'smearing' Beijing and the office in its election coverage. Ho, the pan-democratic candidate in the chief executive election, told a Commercial Radio show that Beijing's representatives had complained directly to a top manager. '[The officer] left a message: how could you publish things this way, smearing the liaison office and the central government?' Ho said. 'A boss of a newspaper called me, saying the liaison office called [his or her] secretary, which he had not experienced before.' The South China Morning Post learned that the newspaper was the Hong Kong Economic Journal, of which Richard Li Tzar-kai, son of Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, is a majority shareholder. The phone call was made to Li's secretary, and a message was left. The caller apparently did not specify which story had angered him. The newspaper's chief editor said he was not aware if Ho was referring to his paper in the morning programme. 'The editorial department did not receive any calls [from the liaison office],' said Chan King-cheung, adding that Li had not told him about the call or given him instructions on news coverage. One media source said the complaint stemmed from a daily one-page section of the Hong Kong Economic Journal, which often unveiled insider knowledge about local politics. Ho said the call had been made by a 'second-tier official' whose rank was equivalent to that of Cao Erbao or Hao Tiechuan, who are the office's head of research, and the director general of the department of publicity, culture and sports, respectively. Cao has reportedly pressured the director of the Chief Executive's Office, Professor Gabriel Leung, not to release details on the 2001 West Kowloon cultural hub design contest that would damage Leung Chun-ying's candidacy in the poll. Leung Chun-ying is involved in a conflict-of-interest row over the contest. Journalists Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting labelled it unacceptable for the liaison office to make such a call, which did not seem like a normal complaint. 'Such a show of attitude clearly goes beyond lodging a complaint. It is a form of pressure.' The association later issued a statement 'strongly condemning' the interference. Shue Yan University journalism professor Leung Tin-wai agreed, saying the office was now interfering in the local media in an increasingly open manner. 'It is [becoming] a trend ... [The office] is now doing it in a more naked manner,' he said. Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor issued a statement, asking people with knowledge of the matter to disclose further details. It said: 'The liaison office's exerting pressure or interference on Hong Kong's press is a serious violation of the freedom of press, depriving the public of their right to know.' The liaison office refused to comment on the issue last night.