22 January 2019
Wen Wei Po's May 21, 1989 editorial shows a blank space except for the words 'hate deeply, feel bitter'. At right, Alex Chow is linked to Taiwan activists. Photos: internet
Wen Wei Po's May 21, 1989 editorial shows a blank space except for the words 'hate deeply, feel bitter'. At right, Alex Chow is linked to Taiwan activists. Photos: internet

How Wen Wei Po became a purveyor of science fiction

Most people in Hong Kong are familiar with the background of Wen Wei Po, a Beijing-backed Chinese-language newspaper with a heavy political flavor.

They’re not shocked by its rabidly pro-Beijing stance or impressed by any of its unsourced “official” stories out of the mainland. These are par for the course.

But given that the newspaper is not above hysterical reporting, Hongkongers are often treated to the most outlandish coverage of people and events as is happening now. 

On Thursday, its front page blared about student activist Joshua Wong and his alleged links to the United States.

Citing “unnamed social media sources”, the full-page story went on to say that Wong, a co-founder of the student activist group Scholarism, and his family are being used by the US government to meddle in Hong Kong’s internal affairs by making him out to be a political star.

It said Wong had frequent meetings with US consulate officials and received donations from Americans. It cited leaked photographs on social media as evidence of his activities which purportedly included a 2011 family visit to Macau at the invitation of the American Chamber of Commerce there.

Wong has denied the story, calling it science fiction.

This is not the first time Wen Wei Po has published dubious stories. In most instances, they have been targeted at pro-democracy politicians and student activists.

In recent weeks, it ran stories about Jimmy Lai, the outspoken publisher of Apple Daily, alleging he gave vast amounts of money to pan-democrats and calling for an investigation. It described Lai’s wealth as “black gold”, suggesting it was ill gotten.

In a front-page story earlier this month, Wen Wei Po accused Alex Chow, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and a leader of an ongoing class boycott, of inciting independence for Hong Kong. It cited some evidence, the most damning of which was that he once wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the Union Jack, the flag of Britain, Hong Kong’s colonial sovereign.

And on Wednesday, the paper quoted pro-Beijing academic Lau Nai-keung in a report that the Hong Kong-America Center of the Chinese University of Hong Kong is a training and support arm for the Occupy Central movement and other radical organizations.

Without confirmation, it said Morton Holbrook III, head of the center, is a veteran US intelligence operative.

Things haven’t always been this way for Wen Wei Po.

It earned respect for its coverage in the lead-up to the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, with an editor sympathetic to the student activists who were fighting for democratic reform.

A May 21 editorial was left blank except for the words “hate deeply, feel bitter” to highlight its opposition to Beijing’s decision to declare martial law against the democratic movement which was brutally crushed on June 4.

The editors who were responsible for the editorial were later forced to leave the paper. Since then, Wen Wei Po has never been the same.

Now, 17 years after Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty, there are fears its free-wheeling press is practising self-censorship in order not to displease Beijing.

It comes in many guises such as sensitive stories being played down or not seeing print at all. It’s mostly about editorial judgment.

But two of the basic principles of journalism — accuracy and fairness — are quite another matter.  

Journalists, whether in a repressive regime or free society, have a duty to uphold the principles and integrity of their profession and media organizations have no less responsibility.

Which sadly is missing in Wen Wei Po.

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EJ Insight writer

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