2 July 2001

The Editor

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong

Dear Sir, 

        I refer to the articles by Philip Bowring headlined :No longer on their best behaviour; (Sunday Morning Post, 1 July) and by Tim Hamlett headlined :Arrogant bank bully boys undermine press freedom; (South China Morning Post, 2 July). Both articles referred to HSBC・s decision to withdraw advertising from popular Chinese-language daily newspaper Apple Daily in retaliation for allegations made in another publication owned by media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, Next magazine, about Vincent Cheng Hoi-chuen, chief executive of Hang Seng Bank and a director of HSBC. 

        I agree with Mr Bowring and Mr Hamlett the episode has exposed HSBC management・s willingness to use their control of the bank・s advertising budget to bully people and to pursue vendettas on behalf of senior executives. As Mr Bowring said, HSBC has every right to demand a correction and apology from Next if the facts are untrue, or if the implications unwarranted. Mr Cheng can sue for libel if he is seriously hurt. 

        However it is deplorable that HSBC, a global financial institution, should resort to using its considerable commercial power to penalise the news media for publishing things its senior executives do not like. Mr Hamlett is correct in pointing out that HSBC・s action is bound to have a chilling effect on any reporter contemplating critical coverage of the bank・s affairs, and indeed those of other companies. Without a doubt, it is an assault on press freedom in the SAR. 

        Withdrawing advertising from targeted news media is a well-known political tactic used by the Chinese Communist Party against its critics and enemies. I am aghast that HSBC has stooped so low. Given the implications of such a move, HSBC has a duty to explain to its shareholders and members of the public whether the withdrawal of advertisements is the bank・s policy and whether it is aware that such action has undermined press freedom in Hong Kong.

Yours sincerely,

 

Emily Lau

Legislative Councillor

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