Ming Pao Daily celebrates its 56th anniversary Wednesday.
Some of its readers found an early cause for celebration Tuesday when columnist Chris Wat Wing-yin, who holds relatively conservative political views, decided to drop her column in the newspaper.
Wat cited attacks by internet users who have opposing views.
The media veteran, who was deputy chief editor of pro-democracy Next Magazine a decade ago, has become a pro-government loyalist in the past few years.
The reaction to her latest comments on the bungled police arrest of an autistic man in a murder case was the last straw.
In a column published last week, Wat said the public shouldn’t criticise the police so severely, as officers did a good job by protecting the suspect in a safe place.
She was referring to his detention in a police station for 72 hours while being repeatedly questioned.
And it had already emerged that police went ahead and charged the man even though they knew he had an alibi.
Hongkongers should praise the police for how well they treated him, Wat wrote.
“In other places, those who are arrested would face even worse treatment,” she said.
Wat’s comments drew massive condemnation from internet users, who said she was “cold-blooded” about handicapped people and criticised her “blind support” for the police.
On Tuesday, she criticised Ming Pao for putting on its front page a report about demonstrators who urged the police to protect autistic and mentally handicapped people.
Wat said that she, too, felt she needed protection.
She said her views, which represented those of the silent majority, had failed to win the respect of readers.
Wat said she was uncomfortable because the personal safety of her family had been threatened by some internet users in recent days.
“Why should I need to suffer from such violence because I have a different opinion from yours?” she wrote.
In conclusion, she said she was ashamed to be a columnist for Ming Pao given its readers’ reaction to her columns.
She criticized the newspaper for losing its editorial independence and credibility and becoming a mass newspaper like Apple Daily.
Wat said she hoped her supporters would follow her and drop their subscriptions to Ming Pao after she ceased writing her column.
Why did some readers celebrate Wat’s decision to drop her column?
They reminded Hongkongers that Wat had criticized teacher Alpais Lam Wai-sze for her political stance, saying she had set herself up as an activist so that the school where she taught would face pressure from the public not to fire her.
Wat’s comments at the time sparked massive criticism from Lam’s supporters.
There is no reason for newspaper editors to cancel any column because of the writer’s political stance.
A newspaper must perform its public function as an open platform for the exchange of ideas and opinions by writers and readers.
At Ming Pao, writers of different political persuasions speak up for their beliefs every day, without any issues.
In Wat’s case, it is quite clear that the writer failed to accommodate readers with different views, blaming the newspaper’s editorial direction instead.
But Wat should realize that what the readers criticised about her was not her political stance or her pro-establishment views. The point is that her comments were not supported by facts.
Taking Lam’s case as an example, Wat criticized her for keeping her job safe by making herself out to be an outspoken teacher.
In a column titled “A Good Job” last year, Wat said getting a good job is easy today — just tell people you joined the Occupy Central protest, or criticized the chief executive and the government or joined the protests against them, and you have a “pro-democracy” shield.
Even if you don’t work hard, your boss will not dare to fire you, Wat wrote.
Hong Kong readers are wise enough to judge the value of articles published in the newspapers.
The Wat case is a good lesson for writers: they should be prepared to face public scrutiny for their comments and think twice before they write them.
They should also take responsibility for their opinions instead of blaming readers with opposite views for badmouthing them.
Ming Pao has been facing lots of pressure externally and internally while trying to strike a balance between the interests of readers and intangible political intervention from the north.
Wat’s decision not to continue writing her column may be a tiny issue, but it reflects the difficulty the newspaper faces in maintaining its neutrality.
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