Morning Post man sacked in Chinese censorship row

South China Morning Post: denied Becker’s claims

The Beijing bureau chief of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post has been sacked after going to his editors to express his concern about censorship of Chinese news.

Jasper Becker, who worked for The Guardian before joining the Morning Post in 1995, told Press Gazette he was handed a letter by an executive a week after the meeting, telling him he was being sacked for insubordination for refusing to work with the China editor, Wang Xiangwei, who had joined from China Daily.

He was given one month’s wages and told to leave his office straight away. "They changed the locks and took away my computer," said Becker.

"I felt very, very concerned about the coverage we were doing because I felt it was damaging to the reputation of everyone and was unnecessary. I felt someone had to speak up about it and I tried to do it in such a way that it wouldn’t become an external row."

Becker saw editor Thomas Abraham and the China editor on his mission to Hong Kong. "I went down and confronted them with evidence of censorship," he claimed. "I went through a list of stories which I thought had been changed or ignored or spiked by the China editor and I also pointed out that many of the editorials being written were more China Daily than China Daily.

"I told them a lot of people had been asking me about the change in China coverage."

Becker also claimed monies due to his office had been blocked since the beginning of the year so that he was unable to pay local staff and his internet connection had been cut off.

Becker said he was given permission recently to return to Tibet by the Chinese foreign ministry for the first time since he was arrested and expelled from there in 1989. But the trip was vetoed as being of no interest.

In an article in the Morning Post, Abraham said Becker had made allegations of self-censorship in its reporting of China which he took seriously.

"Any suggestion that our reporters have been told not to cover certain issues is quite simply not true," he wrote. "The suggestion that our news coverage is somehow directed by the authorities in Beijing is a complete distortion of reality.

"But what is important to reiterate is that as a newspaper we are, and intend to remain, resolutely independent. This leaves us open to the risk of offending the Chinese Government as well as anyone else who feels that we should reflect their viewpoint rather than another’s. These are risks we are willing to take. To do otherwise would be to be untrue to our calling as journalists."

By Jean Morgan

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