Confession fuels fears of Beijing influence on top HK newspaper

July 26, 2016 10:41
The South China Morning Post obtained an interview with Chinese activist Zhao Wei days after her reported release despite the fact that her own lawyer and husband had been unable to contact her. Photo: Bloomberg

The South China Morning Post is facing calls to explain how it obtained an interview with a young Chinese activist days after her reported release despite the fact that her own lawyer and husband had been unable to contact her.

The calls came from activists, media experts and former and current journalists at the English-language newspaper, the Guardian reported.

In the controversial interview, 24-year-old legal assistant Zhao Wei (趙威), who had spent nearly a year in secret detention, said she regretted her activism.

She was released on bail earlier this month, according to Chinese police.

It is understood that the newspaper talked to Zhao with the help of an intermediary whose identity has not been revealed to staff, the Guardian said.

The publication of the interview came amid fears of Beijing's influence on the 113-year-old broadsheet.

“It’s just so sad. A newspaper that used to be one of the best in Asia is now becoming a mouthpiece,” one former employee told the Guardian.

Such criticisms came after the newspaper was bought by Alibaba founder Jack Ma in a deal announced last December.

Ma has brushed aside concerns that the newspaper's editorial independence would suffer as a result of the acquisition.

But as months passed, "there is anger in the Post’s newsroom and among readers and claims that what was once Hong Kong’s newspaper of record has lost its way", the Guardian said.

The SCMP, as the newspaper is widely known, conducted the interview with Zhao by telephone on July 10, or three days after her release was announced. The article was published the following day.

“I have come to realise that I have taken the wrong path,” Zhao was quoted as saying in the article. “I repent for what I did. I’m now a brand new person.”

The story did not say how the SCMP had managed to establish contact with Zhao.

Activists, media experts and Zhao’s husband and lawyer suspect the interview was set up by mainland authorities and conducted against her will, the Guardian said.

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