Thursday, 23 January 2020

The South China Morning Post: is it reliable?

Explanation of the legend see below

ADDED: I did a second survey in July, here.
I’ve been reading the South China Morning Post for forty-odd years.  When, in 2015, it was bought by China-based Alibaba, I was worried -- as were many folks -- that it would become a mouthpiece of Beijing. I’ve kept an eagle eye on it, and I don’t think it has. It remains, in my view, the best English language paper in Asia. So, yes, it’s reliable.

I did an analysis this morning: looking at Op-ed articles and Letters to the editor over the last fortnight. I looked just at those that were about Hong Kong issues, or China, or the protests.  I divided them into three categories:

Critical: as in critical of China, or of our HK government, or of the HK police.  In short “yellow ribbon”.
Pro: as in pro-China, pro-Beijing, pro-Hong Kong government, pro-police. In short “blue ribbon”.
Neutral: for example, suggesting solutions, or looking at both sides of our current troubles. Sometimes called “green”, as in the mix of blue and yellow. (Pretty much where I am... or like to think I am).

The numbers are below and chart above. Bear in mind I might have got some wrong, and there’s an amount of judgement required here, so you’re counting on my ethics to have tried my best to be a fair arbiter.
  • Critical: 27 articles or letters
  • Pro: 13 articles or letters
  • Neutral: 23 articles or letters
The results show that, at the very least, the Post is not a mouthpiece of Beijing. Not one of the “Critical” items nor most of the “Neutral” ones would have been allowed on the Mainland. The SCMP tends to left-of-centre and is often bitingly critical of Beijing policies.

This quote [ref] by the Alibaba vice chairman stands up pretty well, I reckon (my emphasis):
Joseph Tsai, executive vice-chairman of Alibaba Group, said that the fear that Alibaba's ownership [of SCMP] would compromise editorial independence "reflects a bias of its own, as if to say newspaper owners must espouse certain views, while those that hold opposing views are 'unfit'. In fact, that is exactly why we think the world needs a plurality of views when it comes to China coverage. China's rise as an economic power and its importance to world stability is too important for there to be a singular thesis."[56] 
He also said, "Today when I see mainstream western news organisations cover China, they cover it through a very particular lens. It is through the lens that China is a communist state and everything kind of follows from that. A lot of journalists working with these western media organisations may not agree with the system of governance in China and that taints their view of coverage."[23] .