Despite its cover price of HK$6, the Hong Kong edition of China Daily seems to have become the city’s second English-language free newspaper. It has little advertising, and the middle-aged women handing it out on the sidewalks of Central every morning are somehow more depressing than their counterparts distributing the Standard, Metro, etc, but no-one pays for it.
A lot of these free papers are collected by elderly folk who roam the area filling their wheeled shopping baskets with them; they get a couple of bucks a kilo from the recycling companies (who probably pulp the stuff so that it ends up as… newsprint for free papers?) Others are picked up by commuters to read on their journey or flick through in the office. The South China Morning Post is often still undelivered to shops at 8am in my neighbourhood, which can’t hurt demand for the English-language freebies. (For the truly desperate, there is a third gratis English publication: the Falun Gong’s rabidly anti-communist Epoch Times, currently denouncing Beijing’s propaganda machine for its gleeful coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests.)
Unlike the tabloid Standard, which largely contains establishment-slanted, bite-size news reports and showbiz stuff, China Daily has lengthy opinion and analysis pieces. But there is little range of views. The same half-dozen or so interchangeable writers faithfully stick to the official line and even move in unison, herd-like, between topics from day to day. In an attempt to spice itself up (state-owned propaganda sheets are expected to be self-financing these days), the paper also carries cultural and lifestyle features, but there is something uniquely wooden about them, celebrating the achievements of happy rural women or the health benefits of some traditional foodstuff. China Daily comes with two settings: inoffensively bland and deafeningly loyal and patriotic.
So it is amusing to see that today’s Hong Kong opinion page contains a conflict between writers. For several weeks now, the columnists have been taking it in turns to pile on bitter, almost pathological criticism of the Civic Party for its involvement in legal cases on the Zhuhai Bridge and right of abode for foreign maids. Today’s piece by Lo Man-tuen sinisterly avoids mentioning the CP by name and focuses on the evil that is judicial review – ‘sugar-coated poison’, it says.
Meanwhile, just to the left of that article, one Kwan Tsiu singles out what she calls a “free tabloid well-known for its anti-social mentality,” which presumably means Next Media Group’s Sharp Daily. The hurtful paper, she complains, spread hatred in its use of words when it described the Chief Executive’s well-intentioned policy address on Wednesday as ‘sugar-coated [thus implicitly] poison’.
They can’t both be right. Someone is deviating from the party line and is asking for a struggle session.