There’s no doubt Beijing’s two official mouthpieces in Hong Kong have been useful in advancing its post-handover agenda.
But have Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po outlived their purpose?
Maybe not. But judging by Beijing’s increasing influence on Hong Kong’s mainstream media and the emergence of pro-establishment websites, the two newspapers, both founded in the early half of the past century, may be living on borrowed time.
Or at least they may be about to fall off the communist propaganda machinery.
Last week, reports said Beijing is considering the operational merger of Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po under the Liaison Office.
That means they will be run directly by the top communist cadre in Hong Kong, although they will be allowed to keep their respective mastheads and editorial style.
The news remained in the realm of conjecture until a social media website in the mainland, citing an Oct. 30 circular, reported that Ta Kung Pao had decided to close all its local offices.
The closures, which will affect the paper’s business development and sales divisions, among others, will be effective next month. Ta Kung Pao neither confirmed nor denied the report.
In fact, Beijing officials have been pushing for the consolidation of the Communist Party’s propaganda assets for a long a time.
For example, in Shanghai, all the major newspapers are now published by the Shanghai United Media Group, giving the party tighter operational control and ensuring better use of resources.
A sizable chunk of those resources has gone to Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, with HK$100 million (US$12.9 million) allocated to each of them from the Liaison Office last year alone.
Still, they have been minor players in the wider media market which is dominated by the likes of Apple Daily and Oriental Daily News and free newspapers such as Headline Daily.
From an investment perspective, it appears Beijing is not getting its money’s worth.
But the two newspapers did produce some dividend as a foil to pro-democracy mass media during last year’s street protests.
With a damning report in which they questioned the competence and integrity of Johannes Chan, an outspoken critic, they helped torpedo his nomination to be a pro vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong.
In the three years since Leung Chun-ying took office, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po have helped shore up his deeply unpopular government.
But Beijing is not relying solely on these mouthpieces. It has been indirectly ramping up its influence in the Hong Kong media industry.
For instance, senior party officials have been privately encouraging Hong Kong tycoons to take control of local media companies to counter Next Digital, the multimedia empire of pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.
And Beijing loyalists have taken the initiative to help move things forward.
They include Robert Chow with his HKG Post website and Leung supporters who run Speak Out Hong Kong, a social media platform which claims more than 10,000 followers on Facebook.
The Liaison Office and Joint Publishing Group launched Orange News, a news website which has collected 100,000 Facebook “likes”.
With these new-media initiatives, does Beijing still need two aging newspapers with a waning strategic value?
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