Rule of Law

Sacking of writer signals clampdown in Hong Kong

The National Post
January 16, 2006

Jasper Becker and his defenders say the former South China Morning Post reporter was the victim of a new climate of self-censorship as Beijing imposes the ‘correct attitude’ on the Hong Kong media.

Hong Kong: In one of his last articles for the South China Morning Post, Jasper Becker, the newspaper’s Beijing bureau chief, wrote about the Chinese government’s fear of words. The occasion was a literary festival in Hong Kong: the guest list included not a single well-known Chinese dissident writer. Ever since the 19th century, Becker wrote, Hong Kong “has served as a sanctuary for writers and politicians who feel out of favour with the powers that be…. If that changes, Hong Kong will lose its unique importance in the Chinese world.” A week later, Becker – for seven years the newpaper’s best-known writer, author of two definitive books on China and winner of a number of human rights awards – was fired for “insubordination.” The story made headlines in Washington, Paris and other world capitals. The Morning Post is the most important of Hong Kong’s English-language papers It flourished during the British colonial period, and many saw it as a critical Western eye on China. But that has changed. His bosses said Becker, 45, had become too difficult; he wouldn’t work “within the system.” But Becker and his defenders have another explanation: he was the victim, they say, of a new climate of self-censorship in Hong Kong in which leading institutions including the news media, are eager to demonstrate to Beijing that they’re ready to play by the new rules of the post-colonial era.

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