AM730 says paper will suffer if all mainland-backed firms pull adverts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 4:14am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 10:47am

The free newspaper AM730 will lose about HK$10 million a year if all mainland-backed companies continue to pull their advertising out of the paper because of its editorial stance, its founder says.

But Shih Wing-ching, also chairman of Centaline and a property market heavyweight, vowed to maintain the free paper's editorial independence, as he believed "society must allow an upright, pragmatic and independent newspaper to survive".

"I would rather shut the company down then do something I do not want," he said.

Shih, who first revealed on Tuesday that advertisers were backing away from the daily because of its editorial position, elaborated on the situation in his column in AM730 yesterday.

"Since November last year, several advertisers, who had good relationships with our paper, suddenly 'suspended' buying ads from us," he said.

"But none of these companies could clearly point out what we had done wrong." All the companies had mainland backing, he said, adding that some of them even withdrew advertising after the publishing dates were fixed.

Shih believed the actions of these companies were politically, rather than commercially, based.

According to checks by the Post, the Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and China Eastern Airlines were still advertising in the paper in November last year, but in December, their presence was negligible.

A Bank of China spokeswoman said the withdrawal of advertising was based on advertising strategy, while ICBC said it did not consider a newspaper's editorial position when placing advertising.

China Eastern Airlines could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Shih said these mainland-backed corporations normally paid a total of HK$10 million in advertising fees per year, and warned the paper's profit would largely evaporate if their actions continued.

"There are still mainland-backed companies buying ads from us. But if Beijing calls on them to stop, it would severely affect AM730's survival," he said.

Sham Yee-lan, chairwoman of the Journalists Association, said the incident showed there was an invisible hand trying to intervene in the city's press freedom by exerting economic punishment on media.