在我看來，這明明白白是個包含政治考量的決定。在過去的七個月裏，他幾乎不讓我給《南華早報》寫任何跟中國有關的文章。在這段時間裏，我只有兩篇刊 載在《南華早報》中國版塊上的報道，一篇是關於熊貓的，另一篇是關於愛滋病感染受害者賠償的。我給報社的中國新聞編輯組發了二、三十封提出選題建議的郵 件，沒得到任何回覆——其中有個選題倒是通過了，但版面編輯告訴我，王把它否了。我給王發了六、七封郵件，表明我想為《南華早報》多寫些文章，他也從不回 覆。
這當然跟錢沒關係。我一離職，王就招聘了好幾個年輕的新人記者，其中很多人都是從中國大陸來的。就算真有財務問題，為什麼是我被解聘？顯而易見，報 社裏好多人沒有我資深。我跟《南華早報》簽了兩年的約，第一次給《南早》寫文章還是1990年，22年以前了。我為《南早》贏得了10個新聞類獎項，比報 社其他任何記者都多。
去年，當我得知王向偉晉升為總編輯時，我非常驚訝。不說別的，不管外界說他是個多麼資深的記者，他其實都沒多少做新聞的一線經驗，遠遠比他的很多員 工要少。王在《中國日報》工作過，拿過一個新聞學碩士學位，去過倫敦參加一個相關的訓練項目，在那時短暫地給BBC工作過。據我所知，他從來就沒「跑過 口」——就是我們美國記者說的花多年時間踏遍大江南北做採訪。
我在高速公路旁的Burger King餐廳裏採訪耿女士，訪談持續了三個小時。她告訴了我很多她和兒女在東南亞雨林中連夜逃亡的細節，其中許多事實從未被報道過。說到國保人員如何折磨 她丈夫的時候她哭了，但當她歷數她丈夫是如何以律師的身份為社會做出貢獻的時候，她又微笑起來。講到她帶著孩子在美國所遇到的困難時，她還是忍不住流淚。 她丈夫仍然在北京被殘酷折磨和長期「被失蹤」，她的兩個孩子為此承受了巨大的衝擊。
在高短暫脫離「被失蹤」狀態期間，我是第二個見到他的外國記者。當時，總編輯Reg Chua和副總編David Lague為了這個選題跟王激烈地爭論了一番——王對這個故事表現冷淡。總編和副總編希望這篇報道能上頭版，王卻認為它該被夾在內頁裏。他們最後相互妥協 了：在被輕微刪改之後，這篇報道被放入了內頁。高智晟顯然是王不希望報道的對象之一。
自去年中國政府出手迫害人權律師和其他異見人士開始，許多人都被套上黑頭套、塞進車裏然後被押到某個不為人知的地方遭受酷刑。我親眼看到了前所未有 的恐嚇和由此帶來的痛楚，我覺得這標識了一種新的使人恐懼的社會趨勢，於是向中國新聞編輯組的編輯進言，建議做一篇專門的報道。當時副總編David Lague在度假。這個想法立刻被中國新聞編輯組的編輯駁回了，理由是《南華早報》已經做過受迫害的人權律師的相關選題了。我寫了便條，解釋說這次是一種 全新的完全不同的社會趨勢，但我知道我是得不到回覆的。
David Lague幾周後回來了。我馬上把報道提交給他，他迅速回覆說：去做啊！於是我完成了整篇報道。但是稿子在中國新聞組壓了三個月沒有發出——後來我發現這 是王想讓一篇報道的時效性縮水時常用的手法。我寫郵件向David Lague詢問，他無奈辯解道，他已經沒有以前那麼大的職權了。《異見人士的沉默》（Silence of the Dissidents）三個月後發表了。我憑藉這篇中國新聞編輯組想斃掉的稿子拿了兩個獎。
駐廣州站的記者，馬來西亞人Leu Siew Ying就是個其中的絕佳一例。2006年，她因報道年前的太石村罷免事件得過欧盟委员会的洛伦佐纳塔利大奖。2007年她與王先生就是否繼續跟蹤報道太石村事件發生激烈爭執，又受到來自廣州政府的壓力，最終離開了報社。
今年年初，在一篇關於十一世班禪喇嘛的報道中，副總編輯譚衛兒像個高中女生一樣滔滔不絕地說廢話，只問了這位從來沒在西方媒體報道中出現過的人物一 個嚴肅的問題。李世默（編者注：上海風險投資家）是中國政府著名的辯護人之一，他在《南早》寫定期的專欄。最近他在一篇文章中不輕不重地批評了香港市民， 指責他們不讓大陸雙非孕婦來港產子，還對這樣的人民是否有資格進行民主投票表示懷疑。上週，北京大學港澳研究中心副主任強世功（編者注：強世功曾在中聯辦 研究部掛職5年，著有《中國香港》一書，並引發香港作家陳冠中撰長文《中國天朝主義與香港》批判）在《南早》刊登評論，稱「香港人服從北京的領導」。
Self-censorship in SCMP
On April 22, Wang Xiangwei, the new editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post,informed me that my contract with the newspaper would not be renewed when it expired on May 21. I can't say I was surprised.
Sitting in a hotel restaurant in Hong Kong on a hot April day, Wang stared down at the table as the conversation began, seemingly unwilling to make eye contact. After a few minutes of chit chat, I asked him directly about my contract. He fidgeted and said he would not be able to renew it due to budget problems.
To me it was clear that this was a political decision. For seven months, he had basically blocked me from writing any China stories for the newspaper. During that period, I only had two stories in the China pages of the newspaper–one on panda bears and one on compensation for AIDS victims. Some two dozen other story suggestions went unanswered by the China Desk–in one case a story was approved, but the editor told me Wang had overruled him. A half-dozen emails to Wang pleading to write more for the newspaper went unanswered.
It certainly was not about money. Following my departure, Wang hired a spate of new young reporters, many apparently from the mainland. And if there were budget problems, why was I chosen to be let go? Obviously, there were newer people at the newspaper than myself. I had been on contract for two years, and wrote my first article for the newspaper in 1990, some 22 years ago. And I'd won 10 awards for my reporting for the newspaper, more than any other staff reporter.
When I offered to freelance and said I didn't care about the word rate, he hemmed and hawed. When I asked if the newspaper could at least allow me to keep my journalist accreditation with the South China Morning Post, so I could continue to contribute articles to the newspaper, he muttered something about having to think about it. Despite several emails asking about this, he never agreed to do this. And there was no cost in sponsoring me.
When the news came last year that Wang had been appointed the editor-in-chief, I was quite surprised. For one, despite talk of him being a veteran journalist, he had little actual practical experience doing real journalism–far less than a lot of his staff. Wang had worked for the China Daily, done a masters degree in journalism and had gone off to London on a training program, where he worked briefly for the BBC. As far as I know, he never "pounded the sidewalks," as we American journalists say of a reporter who has spent years roaming around doing interviews.
He'd shown weakness in news judgement on many occasions, but more important, he'd long had a reputation as being a censor of the news, which may be what endeared him to Mr. Robert Kuok, the Malaysian tycoon who owns the newspaper, and his son and daughter, who took turns running thenewspaper.
Talk to anyone on the China reporting team at the South China Morning Post and they'll tell you a story about how Wang has cut their stories, or asked them to do an uninteresting story that was favorable to China.
Last November, I traveled to the US on holiday and decided to take a train to meet Geng He, the wife of rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had snuck past Chinese security guarding their Bejing home with a young son and daughter, making it all the way to Thailand and eventually political asylum in the US.
During a three-hour interview in a highway Burger King, Ms. Geng gave me unreported details about the harrowing escape through Southeast Asian jungles, much of it in the middle of the night. She cried as she talked about her husband's treatment by brutal security people, and she smiled when she recalled her husband's dedication as a lawyer. Tears fell as she described the difficulties the family was facing in the US. Both children had been seriously affected by the treatment of their father here in China, which included serious torture and forced disappearances for lengthy periods.
An editor expressed interest in the story, but got back to me later in the day to tell me that Wang had spiked it. No reason was given.
When I was the second foreign reporter to see Gao during his brief respite from being disappeared, Editor-in-chief Reg Chua and Deputy Editor David Lague had a bitter argument with Wang, who was not keen to run the story. They wanted it on the front page, but Wang wanted it buried inside. They compromised by putting the story inside and cutting it slightly. Gao Zhisheng was obviously on Wang's list of people not to be reported about.
When the government began its nasty crackdown against rights lawyers and other dissidents last year, that saw people have black hoods thrown over their heads before being stuffed into a car, and then being taken to hidden location, where most endured horrible torture. I saw an unprecedented pattern of intimidation and pain that clearly marked a new and frightening trend and so I suggested a story to the China Desk (David Lague, the deputy editor, was on holiday at the time). The story was immediately rejected by a China Desk editor, who said the newspaper had reported on tortured lawyers already. I wrote a short note saying this was a new and different trend, but I knew it would go
When David Lague returned weeks later, I submitted the story to him and he immediately said to go ahead. I finished the story, but it sat on China Desk for about three months, a practice I later learned was not uncommon when Wang wanted to let a story shrink in importance. When I wrote to David Lague, he pleaded he no longer had the authority he used to have. Silence of the Dissidents ran three months later, and I went on to win two awards for the story the China Desk tried to kill.
During their time at the newspaper, the two veteran journalists frequently battled fiercely with Mr. Wang over stories, with the daughter of Mr. Robert Kuok, the Malaysian owner of the newspaper, frequently siding with Wang. Insiders say the Kuoks long coddled Wang, believing he had influence in China.
Nor was I the only foreign reporter to be pushed out of the newspaper–I follow a long line of foreigners–each with long experience–who saw their contracts allowed to run out by Wang–this way he could plead innocence: You've not been fired, your contract ran out. There are now no foreign reporters working for the South China Morning Post in China–a first in a long while.
One good example is the case of former Guangzhou correspondent Leu Siew Ying, a native of Malaysia, who won the European Commission's Lorenzo Natali Grand Prize in 2006 for her reporting on protests in the village of Taishi the previous year. She left the paper in 2007 after disputes with Mr. Wang about following up on Taishi and pressure from the Guangdong authorities.
During Wang's time with the newspaper, several foreign editors were offered the job of editor-in-chief, but most left after fighting a losing battle with the former China Daily reporter and member of the Jinlin Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The Kuoks always made it clear where their loyalties lay.
But this is not just a case of foreign reporters being harassed. Talk to just about any one of the excellent Chinese or Hong Kong reporters writing about China for the newspaper, and, if they're willing to talk, they'll quietly tell about Wang spiking perfectly good stories or of being told to write more "positive" articles.
It's interesting that the story that finally exposed Wang was one about the mysterious death of June 4 activist Li Wangyang, which barely got coverage in the newspaper.
After a sub on the desk questioned this gap in the newspaper's reporting, about a story that other Hong Kong media had jumped on eagerly, Wang curtly told the sub off. "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."
When the news gained international attention, and his own reporters signed a letter asking for an explanation, a worried Wang responded with a statement to staff that he decided to run the story as a brief on the first day because he felt the newspaper didn't have enough hard facts for a full story.
But what Wang failed to say was that the newspaper had in fact run a much longer story on Li's death in its first edition and that Wang had chosen to yank it, shave it down to a brief for the next edition, and replace it with an article about former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui and a conversation he had with a group of students–a story that had already run two days earlier. What few have noticed, is that self-censorship is not the only problem. Possibly more worrying is the newspaper's new-found proclivity under Wang to publish dubious stories that reflect Beijing's views.
Earlier this year, deputy editor Tammy Tam gushed like a high school girl in a story about the Chinese Panchen Lama, asking only one serious question of a person who has never appeared in the Western media before. Eric X. Li, a well-known apologist for China, has been writing regular columns for the South China Morning Post. In one recent article he slapped Hong Kong citizens on the wrist for not welcoming mainland women to have their babies in the territory, and then wondering aloud if a people like this deserved the right to vote. Last week came a story by Professor Jiang Shigong, deputy director of Peking University's Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Studies, that claimed "Hongkongers accept Beijing's rule."
In his own weekly commentary, Wang had egg on his face after predicting that disgraced Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai had escaped any serious trouble. "Firstly, Bo's political career looks safe for now and he has apparently managed to push back the pressure from his opponents within the party," Wang wrote just before Bo fell hard.
Another article described Tibetans in Lhasa happily celebrating the Tibetan New Year, with quotes coming from one unidentified "middle-aged Tibetan man." Meanwhile, more objective reports were reporting a dire situation in the Tibetan area. The article read like a China Daily story.
While the South China Morning Post continues to publish good critical reportage on China, the newspaper no longer has the status it had in the late 1990s, or more recently under three years direction under Mr. Chua and Lague, when the newspaper made great advances.
Under Wang's stewardship, the newspaper has lost credibility with Hong Kong and international readers and is now often the butt of jokes in the local Chinese media there. Sadly, the South China Morning Post, which has a history of more than 100 years, may be beyond the point of return. With credibility and morale at the newspaper sagging, and controversies on the rise, competent journalists will now be reluctant to join the newspaper, and it can only sink deeper into mediocrity. The prospects for English-language journalism in Hong Kong is not good and this is sad.