HONG KONG—Mainland Chinese companies have stopped advertising in Hong Kong’s free daily newspaper am730 for political reasons, the paper’s founder Shih Wing-ching claimed recently.
Shih wrote in his opinion column in am730 on Jan. 16 that this withdrawal of funds came as a united front, indicating that there was a uniform reason behind all of the companies’ decisions. He suspected that the actions were motivated by politics rather than commercial interests, because otherwise there would be no reason for the banking and telecommunications industries to act simultaneously.
Shih also stated that he will not yield to any political forces or change the direction of his paper against his will. If worst comes to worst, he will stop running the paper.
He added that the yearly advertising costs of these Chinese companies have exceeded 10 million HKD, while am730’s entire earnings are only 10 to 20 million HKD (US$1.3 to $2.6 million). If these companies continue to withhold their advertising, a large portion of am730’s earnings will vanish.
A very successful businessman and the founder of Centaline Property Agency Limited, Shih said that if a business cannot keep its balance financially, it will not go far.
Financial columnist and senior media professional Liao Shi-ming said, “At present, sales of Chinese companies in Hong Kong have grown large. It has become unfeasible for a daily newspaper to operate relying only on the sales of advertising to local enterprises or foreign investors.”
“This forces Hong Kong media operators to face the test at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party,” Liao said.
According to Liao’s analysis, am730 is classified as conservative and moderate among Hong Kong newspapers. While the paper seldom criticizes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) directly and never touches the “sensitive” issue of the CCP’s persecution of the spiritual practice Falun Gong, the paper holds firm to the core values of Hong Kong, she said.
However, am730 did mention Falun Gong in a Jan. 3 article called “Hong Kong artists stand by Epoch Times” about Hong Kong celebrities sending New Year’s greetings to readers through the Epoch Times.
The article included quotes from people identified as netizens, showing concern for the celebrities about the Epoch Times “Falun Gong” background. The quotes suggested that publishing greetings in the Epoch Times would cause trouble for the celebrities and prevent them from visiting mainland China, where Falun Gong is severely oppressed. The paper did not contact the celebrities directly to get their opinions about the netizens’ comments.
Shih told the Epoch Times that he was not informed about this article, but he said am730 should have checked with the celebrities before reporting these comments.
Liao believed that am730 attempted with this unusual article as to show its position to the CCP, indicating that the paper would not step out of line on the issue that CCP considers most sensitive and most fears to see discussed openly.
“That is a case of obviously siding with the wicked and bullying good people,” Liao said.
Liao appealed to Hong Kong media to hold on to basic morals when facing critical moments, and avoid siding with the CCP against their conscience.
Translated by Y.K. Lu. Written in English by Sally Appert