As a follow-up to my last post, I found that Gawker links a letter from Robert Thomson of The Times of London who’s personally offended at the implication that working for Murdoch might affect their boldness. (I’ve pasted this below the cut.)
But a Los Angeles Times article notes old allegations that Murdoch has indeed stepped in.
One previous blowup over the Times of London’s China coverage came in March 1998, when veteran Hong Kong correspondent Jonathan Mirsky, then writing for the Times on retainer, accused his employer of kowtowing to the Chinese government.
“The Times has simply decided, because of Murdoch’s interests, not to cover China in a serious way,” Mirsky said at what was supposed to have been an off-the-record session with other journalists. His comments made it onto the Internet and then into several British papers.
Peter Stothard, then editor of the Times, vehemently denied the charge, saying: “I have never taken an editorial decision to suit Mr. Murdoch’s interests. Nor have I ever been asked to.” Days later, Mirsky quit the paper.
In an interview last week, Mirsky said that after May 1997, when Stothard went to Beijing to meet China’s vice premier, the Times sharply curtailed publication of Mirsky’s articles in the lead up to the July 1, 1997, handover of Hong Kong to China.
“When Murdoch wants to interfere, he will,” Mirsky said. “If there’s supposed to be a China wall [separating corporate executives from editorial decisions], he’ll ignore it.”
Whether this represents censorship or the accusations of an angry correspondent is simply not something I can find out right now.
Thomson’s letter as published by WSJ Online:
11 May 2007
Jim Ottaway Jr
PO Box 401
Campbell Hall, NY 10916
Dear Mr Ottaway
I was somewhat disconcerted to read your thoughts about News Corp‘s coverage of China and the world in general, which were clearly a challenge to the integrity of the journalists at The Times and to me personally. As a Beijing correspondent, I was in Tiananmen Square on the night of the massacre in 1989 and was thrown out of Tibet by heavy-handed Chinese officials, so the explicit allegation that we are pandering to the Communist Party came as rather a surprise.
There is no doubt some difficulty in obtaining print copies of The Times in the US but reasonably regular scrutiny of our web site would make clear that all of our reporting has the objective of being factually objective and our comment pages provide a genuine contest of ideas. We are the only British newspaper to maintain a permanent bureau in Baghdad and have, by far, the most extensive coverage of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, where our reporters and photographers are often in harm’s way because of their professional commitment.
Two areas of coverage, in particular, have been developed since I arrived at The Times after establishing the Financial Times in North America: international reporting and business news. We now have the largest business audience in Britain and have partnered with The Wall Street Journal commercially in the UK. Such a partnership, proposed by the Journal’s team here, would have been unthinkable had they regarded our coverage as somehow second-rate or tainted.
I have attached a small selection of our leaders on the subject of China so that you can assess whether we are in thrall to the Government or to commercial interests. (See articles.) I also suggest that you follow the coverage by our Beijing correspondent, Jane Macartney, a former bureau chief for Reuters, who recently broke the news about a purge of the Shanghai leadership and whose journalistic integrity can be verified by senior members of the Journal’s editorial staff.
Do feel free to contact me to discuss any aspect of coverage of any issue by The Times. If you pass through London, please do visit our offices and feel at liberty to talk to our senior editors and specialists about their particular areas of expertise and about journalism in general.
All the best.
1 Pennington Street, London E98 1TT