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(Credit: Economic Journal, screenshot)

The daily newspaper The Hong Kong Economic Journal has already apologized to readers over a Jan. 29 commentary piece, but the subject of that article, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, wants the article — which he says is defamatory — retracted, the South China Morning Post reported.

The column discussed “signs that Leung had links to or dealings with triad gangs after triad members were seen paying cash to participants at a recent pro-Leung rally,” according to the Morning Post.

The Journal’s Feb. 7 apology to readers over the story apparently attempts to clarify that the newspaper wasn’t outright reporting that Leung was involved with triads, but instead the paper was airing “claims” for which “further evidence was needed.” (iMediaEthics has not read the original article but has asked the Journal for a link.) The apology statement read in part:

“The management and editorial department of our newspaper, as well as the author of the [relevant] article, did not allege Mr Leung had had relations with triads. We apologise if the article prompted some readers to make unfair conclusions about Mr Leung and had caused any inconvenience.”

But that apology to readers wasn’t satisfactory for Chief Executive Leung, who said in a statement:

“I have all along respected freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Nevertheless, the article contains serious allegations which accused me of having relations with triad society. The matter has to be taken seriously.”

Despite Leung’s legal letter calling for the commentary’s retraction, the Journal’s Chan King-cheung defended the piece and said, “We will not withdraw the article.” Further, the paper called its commentary “in the public interest,” according to Channel News Asia.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association weighed in on Leung’s claims, and in a statement on its website, said it “regrets” Leung’s “threatened legal action” given his position in power and called for Leung to retract his claim. The association also questioned why Leung has “refused to respond publicly” to those triad claims brought up by the Journal and noted that “instead, he has selectively chosen a few media outlets to rebut the allegations without providing any substantiation” and threatened the Journal.

“The public is left to wonder if Mr. Leung is putting the blame on the media, which would have a chilling effect on press freedom,” the association added.

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Interestingly, the association called for Leung to provide evidence that he either is or isn’t involved with triads, and field discussion on the Journal’s claims. The association’s statement read in part:

“It is inappropriate for Mr. Leung to jump in with threats of legal action before even responding to the commentary so as to allow for a rational discussion of the issues. Although Mr. Leung sent out the letter in his own capacity, it is impossible to distinguish between his public duty and his private persona….

“The HKJA strongly urges the Chief Executive to clarify, with facts, whether Mr. Lew’s accusations are true or false, in an open and comprehensive manner.  Public concerns cannot be cleared by the Chief Executive making empty denials through selective media outlets”

iMediaEthics has written to the Economic Journal asking

  • Is the original commentary still published?
  • Was it clearly labeled commentary?
  • Did the Economic Journal seek comment from the Chief Executive before publication?
  • What prompted the apology?
  • If the Economic Journal has comment on the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association’s statement

An email has also been sent to the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association asking what prompted its statement and for more context on the Chief Executive’s legal claims — for instance, if he or predecessors frequently threaten legal action against the press. iMediaEthics has also asked the Chief Executive’s Office for comment on the Journalists’ Association’s statement, for any planned timeline of legal action and for further comment.  We’ll update with any responses.

UPDATE: 2/14/2013 9:24 PM EST:
iMediaEthics heard from Michael Yu, an Information Officer from the Chief Executive Office.  He pointed iMediaEthics to the Chief Executive’s Feb. 7 statement on the Economic Journal’s story and note, which is quoted above.  The notice reads:

“I have all along respected freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Nevertheless, the article contains serious allegations which accused me of having relation with triad society. The matter has to be taken seriously.

“I am aware of and accept the last paragraph of the notice* issued by HKEJ today.”

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