I was wondering when problems would become apparent at the South China Mornign Post. Well, today they’ve erupted into the paper itself. Wang Xiangwei was named editor-in-chief of the SCMP in February, the first mainland born and raised person to hold the post. It was also noteworthy because Wang is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of Jilin province. A number of people have wondered if this was not a conflict of interest. Asia Sentinel raised the issue the very day he was named editor-in-chief. I had heard that he had a habit of blocking sensitive stories. I also know that he fired or did not renew the contracts of many non-Chinese journalists, including three who then went on to win awards for the SCMP in early June for their previous work. He seemed to be making the paper more pro-Beijing and less independent.
Now the SCMP has violated one of the basic rules of damage control, it seems to me, by publishing a defensive letter by Wang Xiangwei to his staff that brings even more attention to the allegations against him. He is accused of downplaying the alleged suicide (but apparent murder) of Li Wangyang on the first day the news was public. A curt (and unflattering) email to an employee who requested an explanation has circulated, embarrassing him. Perhaps he felt he needed to make a public statement since articles like this one in The Malaysian Insider were making this public, and were questioning whether the SCMP was guilty of self-censorship. Certainly Wang has a different take on China from many Western commentators. That can sometimes be refreshing. But his entanglements with the state and editorial policies do lead to questions over his independence. It will be interesting to see this play out, and to see how long he lasts.