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Resignation of Mr. Willy Wo-Lap Lam
Statement by Emily Lau of The Frontier

I am deeply disturbed but not surprised by the resignation of Mr. Willy Wo-lap Lam from the South China Morning Post. Since being castigated by his boss Mr. Robert Kuok in June for "exaggeration and fabrication", it should be obvious that his days at the Post were numbered.

As I said in my letter to the SCMP on 1 July, Mr. Lam is highly respected both here and abroad for his insightful China coverage. His forced departure bodes ill for press freedom in Hong Kong. It shows, as Mr. Lam indicated, that journalists who dare to criticize the rich and the powerful will be sidelined.

For many years, I have expressed concern about the local media's tendency for self censorship. Mr. Lam proved to be the exception to the rule since he was allowed to write analytically and critically on developments in the mainland.

His article on 28 June "Marshalling the SAR's tycoons" was too close to the bone. It showed that the reappointment of Mr. C. H. Tung as the second Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in 2002 was a done deal and the anti-Tung tycoons were asked to toe the party line.

Mr. Lam's article infuriated his boss Mr. Kuok, who was one of the tycoons invited to Beijing. Acting uncharacteristically, Mr. Kuok wrote to his own newspaper the Post to denounce Mr. Lam on 29 June.

However, developments in the last few weeks showed that Mr. Lam was spot on. The Chinese leaders have no qualms in revealing that they want Mr. Tung to be re-selected as the SAR's second Chief Executive in 2002. The fig leaf that Hong Kong enjoys a "high degree of autonomy" and that a 800-member committee will select the second Chief Executive in 2002 has been discarded. There is every reason to believe the tension between Beijing and some Hong Kong tycoons that Mr. Lam wrote about in June still exists, but few journalists in Hong Kong care or dare to write about it. The removal of Mr. Lam is not just a blow to the credibility of the South China Morning Post, but another nail in the coffin for the freedom of the press in Hong Kong.