Media censorship through financial suffocation: it’s a theme that has dominated headlines all week after The House News published a story claiming that chief executive CY Leung had indirectly pressured global financial institutions to pull advertising from pro-democratic newspapers.
The three banks in question: HSBC, Standard Chartered and the Bank of East Asia, are said to have pulled advertisements from Apple Daily after mounting political pressure.
They have, of course, denied the allegations. The Bank of East Asia said its advertising was based solely on business considerations such as marketing strategy, advertising budget and business needs.
Next Media CEO Ip Yat Kin yesterday told Marketing that the publication had seen a decline from “major clients”, but even he refused to say which advertisers were he was talking about.
The story also claimed that CY Leung would give Standard Chartered “the cold shoulder” and not appear at the Standard Chartered Marathon as “punishment” for rebuffing the government’s request to withdraw ads.
The Hong Kong government, led by CY Leung, has taken a battering in the media over suspected interventions towards editorial independence.
The political dispute was first sparked by the HKTV free-to-air license saga and flared up by the most recent controversy over the sudden replacement of the Ming Pao chief editor.
This week journalists at Ming Pao staged a protest against the replacement, a decision which is suspected to have stemmed from the central government. A five-minute stand-off silent protest was the team’s most aggressive attempt to stand up for the freedom of the press.
Put aside the question of is the government is really meddling in media, because to date there really is no factual evidence, but Hong Kong's thriving newspaper business has always been drawn along political lines and Next Media boss Jimmy Lai has never shied away from his pro-democratic stance.
If media censorship of the likes we have heard this week are actually true, it's an issue the advertising industry and related media associations should take very seriously.