Cherian George questions SPH's editorial independence but silent on wife lifting a leg up for Chinese propagandaMay 09, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership
In an opinion piece published on Friday (May 7) in South China Morning Post, media professor Cherian George questioned if the restructure of Singapore Press Holdings into a not-for-profit entity would truly be a step away from the clamps of State involvement.
The Hong Kong Baptist University Journalism Professor said: "(The restructure) is a rearguard action to preserve the ruling party's dominance over mainstream media".
Recounting how former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew enacted the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) in the 70s to indirectly eliminate headstrong publishers not aligned with government interests, Cherian suggested that the overhaul of SPH is not a break away from Government influence, but a continuity of it.
Op-ed published in South China Morning Post - a news outlet known to be devoid of editorial independence
The irony of Cherian's article comes on the back of its publication in South China Morning Post (SCMP), a news outlet known to be influenced by China's political leadership - the same outlet where his wife Zuraidah Ibrahim works as a Deputy Executive Editor.
Cherian's colleague Rose Lüqiu Luwei, also a professor of journalism at the same university said: "I think the top management is already indirectly controlled (by the Chinese Government)" when asked to assess SCMP's level of editorial independence.
The paper has steadfastly rebutted allegations that its coverage isn’t impartial.
“SCMP remains committed to serving our global readers with independent journalism and in-depth analysis, as we have for over 117 years. Our newsroom does not shy away from tough stories, as our entire body of work shows, and we stand by our balanced and objective journalism,” said an SCMP spokesperson.
But current and former SCMP journalists that Quartz spoke to say that it is at the edges where censorship comes into play, like editors such as Cherian's wife Zuraidah quietly nudging reporters away from sensitive topics, tweaking phrases and headlines, or playing down stories related to China’s top leaders.
“I do feel like I am not encouraged to do investigative pieces...and sometimes editors quibble over wording and angles of pieces that are on a gray line,” said a SCMP reporter who spoke under condition of anonymity.
“You can’t tell if it’s censorship, and it’s not egregious enough to keep protesting about, but you’re not entirely proud of the end product.”
The art of subtle propaganda
When it comes to China, the SCMP’s overall coverage remains far from Communist Party mouthpieces such as China Daily or Global Times.
However, nine current and former SCMP employees told a reporter from The Atlantic that the lines of editorial independence were often far less clear.
Nearly all pointed to Yonden Lhatoo, the SCMP’s chief news editor.
Members of the newsroom were particularly unhappy with a story Lhatoo wrote last October pushing a theory popular among pro-Beijing figures that there was a “silent majority” in Hong Kong that was against the Hong Kong protests but had been scared into silence.
They were concerned enough to request a meeting with senior editors after the story’s publication to discuss their concerns over Lhatoo and editing more broadly.
Chow Chung Yan, the executive editor, and Zuraidah Ibrahim met with disgruntled staff, but “there was no attempt to try and reconcile anybody,” one person present at the meeting told the Atlantic. “It was just, ‘This is the situation; if you don’t like it, there is the door.’”
Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch tweeted: "...SCMP's problematic but subtle editorial decisions are precisely the point - it makes the unsuspected think they are reading real news when they are actually primed to absorb Beijing's views."
Cherian George makes a fair point in throwing shade at SPH's editorial independence but in the same context, he also needs to look no further than across his marital bed at night to find out if he has been cowering under a shade of hypocrisy all along.