The Hong Kong Journalists Association, which usually saves its ire for censorious governments, is lashing out at one of its own -- in this case, a Hong Kong media outlet with links to a U.S. company.
"The decision underscores the spread of self-censorship within the Hong Kong media industry," the HKJA said. "Even worse was that the burden was borne by a front-line journalist. We urge South China Media to honour its duties as a media company and the decisions of professional journalists. We urge the owner of the Esquire brand, the Hearst Corporation, to review its contract with South China Media"
According to the HKJA statement, when Ms. Chu was fired on June 29, her company said explicitly it was because of 6/4. Her 16-page feature story was barred from publication with no discussion. The reason South China reportedly gave was that her work was "seditious."
Did the Esquire team really comment on this issue, on the record, to a working journalist, using the term "seditious?"
"Sedition" is a legal term that generally refers to an active scheme to overthrow a government. If Daisy Chu were, say, amassing a rebel army in the Esquire offices, somewhere behind the designer shoe samples, that would be sedition. If, after reviewing "Top 10 men's grooming products!" she turned her attention to hacking the Chinese government computer system, that would be sedition. "Seditious libel" -- a charge hardly ever used in developed nations -- would be, say, Daisy Chu using an Esquire article as a call to arms to storm the Politburo.
I doubt any Esquire feature would qualify for sedition, at least not in the way any developed nation defines it. (The Chinese definition -- "anything that pisses us off" -- is broader).
The funny thing is, practically every publication in Hong Kong wrote about 6/4 -- without trouble -- and nobody would have called anything Esquire did "seditious." Apple Daily practically had a funeral wreath as a front page, and the government didn't call them seditious. Esquire came up with that self-confession all by itself. This is classic "self-censorship." Esquire jumped before anyone pushed them.
When I was doing my thesis on how Chinese censorship was affecting Hong Kong media, I looked at several of these cases. from the 1990s to the present day. The difference, before, was that media companies would at least make the effort to pretend they were not being censorious. Journalists who produced critical works toward China might lose their jobs, but it was explained through budget cuts, staff issues, etc. An enterprising reporter or editor would be called in for a lecture about "corporate restructuring." Then the censorship hard to prove.
With this case, a company is going out of it way to show it is sacking someone for political reasons. The facade has come down. Why? Has it become more socially acceptable to censor content? Are companies that desperate to prove their politically correct chops to China, or China-based advertisers? How much are U.S. or Western business partners aware of these issues?
I don't know exactly what the article said, as it never came out, nor do I know what happens behind doors at Esquire. (And if anyone from that magazine is reading this, I would love to hear your point of view).
But I can say this as a professional editor. No staff writer -- no-one, no matter how ambitious -- plunges into a 16-page feature article without go-ahead from an editor. Even staff writers have to pitch stories before they start. If your boss doesn't schedule the time and resources to do a big job like this, it would be impossible. And why would you bother? 16 pages is alot of "real estate" in a publication. If an editor hasn't set aside the space for it, if there aren't photos being prepared and pages being designed, it's not going to happen. There is some flexibility in media (like us) who deal in daily breaking news. But glossy fashion or features mags are planned months in advance.
My guess is that Daisy was given the go-ahead by someone, got halfway through the project, and then some higher power pulled it.
NB: South China Media -- which publishes local, Chinese-language versions of light magazines like Jessica, Marie Claire, HIM and CarPlus -- is not the same company as the South China Morning Post