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:
The staff of The Wall Street Journal won 2007’s Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for their work on China’s economic development. Now, they’re concerned that if the family that owns the Journal accepts a bid by News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, they might not be able to cover China the way they want. I’m not sure their fears are well-founded.
They’ve sent a letter to members of the Bancroft family, who control the Journal‘s parent company, Dow Jones. (Greg Sargent at Talking Points Memo posted the text, and my Editor & Publisher friends re-posted. I’m putting it after the jump for my files.) Their argument is that Murdoch would prevent hard-nosed reporting about China’s problems that would hurt his business interests in China.
I hate to impugn the intensity of Pulitzer-winning reporting, but from my reading of the articles, there is little that would seem to disturb the Chinese government. Regarding their prize-winning reporting, they write, “many of those stories shed an unflattering light on the government and business interests.” But state media are constantly reporting on measures being undertaken to repair disastrous environmental situations and corruption. That solutions are being advertised (regardless of how effective they are) implies admission that the problems exist. From my experience researching Japan rhetoric in China, I have observed that controls appear to be tighter on Chinese-language outlets than on foreign-language ones. Foreign media publishing material on China are even less restricted. To be a perceived threat worthy of Murdoch’s restrictions, I’m guessing the Journal reporters would have to go much further than they did for this Pulitzer.
For the record, I’d like the Journal to remain independent. It’s one of a few remaining family-owned news operations with international reach based in the United States. The homogenization of voices in the U.S. media doesn’t need to lose a strong independent voice.