Posing as an applicant for the new post of Pilates Instructor, I sneaked into the South China Morning Post’s new headquarters over the weekend. As you would expect of a high-tech trendy company, the place offers a fitness zone (ping-pong table, yoga mats, a surprising number of punch-bags), an in-house acupuncturist, massages, pet-grooming facilities, a Mandarin-medium crèche with goose-stepping for toddlers, and a luxury café. Also, a very convincing-looking British-style pub – with its own brand of beer (a quite decent IPA).
On a darker note – there’s the Punishment Chair, in which disobedient staff members are disciplined…
As staff unpack their boxes, the mood is somewhat subdued. Not everyone is impressed by the paper’s latest scoop – a forced confession ‘interview’ with kidnapped and re-kidnapped publisher Gui Minhai, hosted by Beijing’s security forces. For objections, see here (with links to other background) and here; some might say hmmm or think bad-karma-for-not-fact-checking; reporters’ responses here and here.
The main complaint is that the media accepting the invitation legitimized the grotesque display, enabled the Communist Party’s propaganda machine to achieve its purpose, and arguably abetted a human-rights abuse (assuming Gui’s performance followed some form of torture).
The press could justify going on the grounds that the event was indisputably a news story and it would have been unthinkable not to attend. But are they chasing the truth or helping to spread lies? The SCMP report blandly conveys Gui’s statements without a hint of skepticism (his tale suggests serious concocted weirdness), but at least quotes an Amnesty International guy suggesting it was rehearsed.
Of course, under their Beijing-friendly ownership, the SCMP and Oriental Daily exist to serve the Chinese party-state’s interests in cases like this. They wouldn’t have been invited to this stunt otherwise. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Dragging journalistic ethics into this is beside the point.