Article 'twisted by an invisible hand'
Claims that a newspaper twisted an opinion piece by a respected commentator so badly that it said almost the opposite of what he intended - and appeared to back chief executive candidate Leung Chun-ying - have increased concerns that Beijing is meddling in election coverage.
Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu's commentary for the Chinese-language daily Sing Pao was intended to be a rejection of both leading candidates, Leung and Henry Tang Ying-yen.
But it ran under the headline: 'Out of the two, [I] would rather choose Leung Chun-ying'.
In an open letter to the media yesterday, Lau said he felt the influence of 'an invisible hand', prompting local media to engage in self-censorship.
Lawmaker Miriam Lau Kin-yee, of the Liberal Party, also complained Sing Pao refused to run a comment piece in which she explained her party's intention to cast blank ballots after losing faith in Tang, rather than voting for Leung.
It had been due to run yesterday, but was replaced with a piece by a social worker about consumer rights.
Lau said: 'The issue is [about] more than twisting my article. My concern is that more and more media are exercising self-censorship to please Beijing and that it seems the media are starting to get used to it.
'I respect the pro-Leung editorial policy of the newspaper. But this time it is a great regret. I feel that there is an invisible hand [behind the scenes].'
His 600-word article was originally entitled 'Neither Tang nor Leung is worthy of support'.
There were several changes to the article. Lau wrote that both candidates had not done well and that 'supporting either party would not be conducive to the situation'.
But the edited copy read: 'Both of them do have some inadequacy. If there is really a need to make a choice, then, let's choose Mr Leung Chun-ying.' Lau concluded his piece with the words: 'Therefore, neither Mr Tang nor Mr Leung is worthy of support. They do not deserve sympathy either.' But it was edited to read: 'Mr Tang is not worthy of support. Nor does he deserve sympathy.'
Sing Pao chief editor Ngai Kai-kwong denied the paper had come under pressure from the central government's liaison office, which has reportedly been lobbying Election Committee members to vote for Leung in recent days.
'There was some misunderstanding,' Ngai said. 'We respect press freedom and there is no question of political censorship.'
He said it was generally accepted that a newspaper had the right to edit any articles it published, or to reject them. 'This time the editing might have been too carelessly done,' Ngai said of Johnny Lau's complaint.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association condemned Sing Pao's move as 'a betrayal of media ethics'.
The third candidate in tomorrow's election, Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, yesterday issued an open letter to President Hu Jintao and Vice-President Xi Jinping demanding that state leaders stop the liaison office from meddling in internal Hong Kong affairs.