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July 15th, 2012:

ayaaaah ! death of the SCMP thanks to its puppet editor

Former SCMP Hacks Appeal to Change Paper’s Direction

Written by Our Correspondent
SUNDAY, 15 JULY 2012

Open letter to Exec Director Hui Kuok expresses concern that paper seeks to please Beijing

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Twenty-four journalists who formerly worked for the South China Morning Post have written an open letter to the paper’s group executive director, Hui Kuok, expressing their concern that critical coverage of China is being abandoned in order to please the Communist authorities in Beijing.

The letter, signed by journalists who are now based in different parts of the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Beijing, Australia and the UK, expressed concerns about the developments at the Post, It is the latest salvo in the war over the English-language daily’s journalistic soul in the era of editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei, the mainland-born journalist who traces his antecedents to the Chinese government’s state-owned China Daily and his membership in the Jilin Chinese People’s Consultative Congress.

Critics both inside and outside the paper say Wang has been steadily getting rid of western journalists and replacing them with colleagues from Beijing, particularly the China Daily. Hui Kuok is the youngest child of Malaysian sugar tycoon Robert Kuok, who bought a controlling interest in the newspaper in 1993. She is responsible for the media group’s operations and businesses. It has long been pointed out that the Post, while never particularly aggressive, has throughout the last several decades been one of the most complete recorders of news about China from its vantage point in Hong Kong. Both Willy Lam and Jasper Becker, bureau chiefs in Beijing, were fired long before Wang came on the scene in February.

“The South China Morning Post has never been a radical publication, but it has served the people of Hong Kong for 100 years by providing them with accurate and timely information,” the letter said. “It is now widely believed that the paper’s main priority is no longer to continue this fine tradition, but to please the authorities in Beijing.”

The current controversy at the paper broke open in early June when Alex Price, a senior sub-editor at the paper, questioned a decision by Wang to reduce a major breaking story on the suspicious death of Tiananmen dissident Li Wangyang in a Hunan hospital to a brief.

Price sent Wang an email saying “A lot of people are wondering why we nibbed the Li Wangyang story last night. It does seem rather odd. Any chance you can shed some light on the matter?” That generated a series of emails during which Wang said “I don’t have to explain to you anything. I made the decision and I stand by it. If you don’t like it, you know what to do.”

After some additional exchanges, Price sent the emails to some colleagues who leaked them to outsiders. Asia Sentinel broke the story on June 19 and subsequently Hong Kong’s Chinese press had a field day with it. Remarkably, Price has so far managed to keep his job.

Wang later sought to justify his decision to the staff by saying the story over Li’s death had received little or no coverage on CCTV, the Chinese government’s stated-owned television news service.

“The latest dispute over the curtailed coverage of the Li Wangyang story has angered a great many of the Post’s traditional readers and supporters,” the former Post journalists said in the letter. “It suggests that the charges of the paper’s critics are justified. We understand that news judgments have to be made in haste and occasional errors are to be expected. “Some of the explanations for the Li Wangwang decision suggest, though, that a change in policy has taken place. The idea that the story needed to be downplayed because it had received little or no coverage on CCTV is unworthy of the Post’s traditions as an independent and enterprising newspaper. CCTV no doubt has a role as a source of information. If used as an indicator of news values it is a source of ignorance.

“We are distressed to hear that a senior editor who asked about the decision was told that “if you don’t like it you know what to do”. We would like to believe that this was a careless piece of phraseology penned in a moment of excitement but it sounds suspiciously as if staff are no longer expected to understand or support the newspaper’s policy, merely to follow instructions.

“We are concerned by all this not only because we were once happy and proud to work for the Post, and do not like to see its reputation deteriorate, but also because the newspaper has historically been an important civic resource for the people of Hong Kong. It will be a serious public loss if the newspaper continues to go downhill.

“The constant changes in the editorship of the Post suggest that either the owners do not know what they want, or they want something that no credible senior journalists will provide. We urge you to protect and cherish the South China Morning Post’s traditions of independence, truthfulness and service to its readers.

“We urge you to ensure that stories are evaluated on the basis of their interest to Hong Kong readers. We urge you to ensure that Post journalists are able to work according to an explicit and understood editorial policy. We urge you to encourage the newspaper’s management to give civil answers to civil questions. We hope that our connections with the Post will continue to be a source of pride, in its continuing commitment to independence, accuracy and public service.”

Inside the paper, there seems to be little indication that Wang and his management team are paying any attention to the criticism. One source told Asia Sentinel the editor continues to tighten his grip, extending his influence to the editorial page and arguing that more pro-China and pro-Hong Kong government editorials appear.

The signatories to the letter follow:

  • ·         Kitty Au
  • ·         Jonathan Braude
  • ·         Jasper Becker
  • ·         Barclay Crawford
  • ·         Ellen Chan
  • ·         Will Clem
  • ·         Steve Cray
  • ·         David Evans
  • ·         Katherine Forestier
  • ·         Danny Gittings
  • ·         Tim Hamlett
  • ·         Fong Tak-ho
  • ·         Lydia Ho
  • ·         Carol Lai
  • ·         Chloe Lai
  • ·         Willy Lam
  • ·         Angel Lau
  • ·         Shirley Lau
  • ·         Eddie Lee
  • ·         Lieu Siew Ying
  • ·         Sheila McNamara
  • ·         James Moore
  • ·         Paul Mooney
  • ·         Dustin Shum

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written by Prince, July 15, 2012

This open later is a most welcome development, and people outside the paper need to keep pushing this message to the Kuoks.
As your writer suggest, Xiangwei has continued to tighten his grip within the paper. Last week two senior journalists were let go. The retirement age on the SCMP is 60, after which some some journalists are kept on on a a series of one year rolling ‘contracts.” Staff can still be fired at a month’s notice but it is a device so that the paper no longer has to pay MPF and medical contributions. A senior and highly competent journalist was let go last week to clear the way so that other younger journalists could be promoted. This is seen as a pretext by Xiangwei to get rid of senior (gweilo) journalists he doesn’t like. Others are expected to follow as their contracts come up for renewal. Their positions can be filled with younger journalists more amenable to his bullying tactics, and less likely to stand up to him. As recent events have indicated the paper is already in a steady downward spiral and unless he is checked it will accelerate. It is surprising the controlling Kuok family has been so complacent while the value of the SCMP brand is being trashed by this monster. He is an incompetent journalist, a bad manager, and is hated by the staff – Chinese and westerners alike.

Poorer farmers in Africa cannot afford agricultural fertiliser for their crops

BBC News – 15 July 2012

Description: Corn crops

A team of British plant scientists has won a $10m (£6.4m) grant from the Gates Foundation to develop GM cereal crops.

It is one of the largest single investments into GM in the UK and will be used to cultivate corn, wheat and rice that need little or no fertiliser.

It comes at a time when bio-tech researchers are trying to allay public fears over genetic modification.

The work at the John Innes Centre in Norwich is hoped to benefit African farmers who cannot afford fertiliser.

Agricultural fertiliser is important for crop production across the globe.

But the many of the poorest farmers cannot afford fertiliser – and it is responsible for large greenhouse gas emissions.

The John Innes Centre is trying to engineer cereal crops that could get nitrogen from the air – as peas and beans do – rather than needing chemical ammonia spread on fields.

If successful, it is hoped the project could revolutionise agriculture and, in particular, help struggling maize farmers in sub-Saharan Africa – something the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is keen to do.

‘Major problems’

Professor Giles Oldroyd from the John Innes Centre, who is leading the team, said the project was vital for poorer producers and could have a “huge impact” on global agriculture.

“We believe if we can get nitron fixing cereals we can deliver much higher yields to farmers in Africa and allow them to grow enough food for themselves.”

However, opponents of GM crops say results will not be achieved for decades at best, and global food shortages could be addressed now through improving distribution and cutting waste.

Pete Riley, campaign director of the group GM Freeze, said there was a realisation by many farmers across the world that “GM is failing to deliver”.

“If you look in America, yields haven’t increased by any significant amount and often go down,” he said.

He added: “Now we’re seeing real, major problems for farmers in terms of weeds that are resistant to the herbicides which GM crops have been modified to tolerate.”

Court to force clean up of UK’s air pollution

Defra accused of doing nothing to meet looming EU deadline despite 30,000 premature deaths

Emily Dugan

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Government faces a Supreme Court action this week demanding that it slash air pollution levels by 2015. Lawyers acting for the environmental charity ClientEarth are making a legal challenge to force the coalition to cut levels of lethal nitrogen dioxide (NO2) to within European Commission limits.

Poor air quality causes the premature deaths of 30,000 people in Britain each year – more than die from alcohol abuse, obesity or in car crashes. London has the dirtiest air of any European capital, with NO2 levels often double the European limit.

Currently 28 zones in Britain will fail to meet legally binding EU limits for “major air pollutants” such as NO2 levels by a 2015 deadline. Instead of trying to bring emissions within the limits, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is hoping to negotiate a later deadline.

An earlier attempt to make the Government comply failed last year when an application for a judicial review of Defra’s inaction was rejected.

The Government said at the time that the issue should be settled by the European Commission rather than the UK courts. However, in a move that will embarrass ministers, the EU has come out in support of this week’s Supreme Court action, saying in a letter it has “considerable concerns” if governments such as Britain’s try to circumnavigate their own legal systems.

The letter to ClientEarth from Jean-François Brakeland, the EC’s legal chief, says: “The fact that the Commission has powers to bring its own infringement proceedings against member states… should not mean that individuals cannot plead these obligations before a national court.”

Alan Andrews, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “The Government’s plan is, in reality, a plan to do absolutely nothing. It is trying to kick this into the long grass,… while lobbying in Europe to weaken the legal standards. But the commission has quite rightly laid this at the doors of the UK courts. National courts have a responsibility to enforce national laws, even when they come from Brussels.”

Since EU guidelines on NO2 came into force in 2010, London has exceeded the limit by a factor of two, both in 2010 and 2011. NO2 can cause difficulty breathing – particularly for people with heart or lung problems – and polluted air reduces average life expectancy in Britain by up to eight months. It is the second biggest public health threat after smoking, and costs £19bn a year.

Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College London, said: “It’s important to meet those limit values because all the medical evidence suggests that where the pollution is higher, the health statistics are worse. There’ll be more heart disease, more respiratory problems and more people dying earlier.”

James Thomlinson, 27, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and works in central London for a digital marketing business. “When I’m walking in London my breathing gets much tighter,” he said. “I get wheezy and end up coughing. When I’m somewhere unpolluted, I hardly cough at all. If I want to live longer, I’ll need to move.”

Experts met yesterday to discuss London’s poor air quality before the Olympics. If the weather warms up, it could cause respiratory problems for athletes.

Introducing more low-emission zones, which exclude heavily polluting diesel-engined vehicles, could help Britain hit the target. But currently there is only one, London’s, compared with 54 in Germany.

A Defra spokeswoman said: “A significant part of the UK meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants, and air quality has improved considerably in recent decades.

“Our air-quality plans for nitrogen dioxide set out all the important work being done to meet EU standards in the shortest possible time.”