You may have gathered that I have a love-hate relationship with the South China Morning Post. On the one hand, I am grateful to have an English language newpaper (and given the number of expats in Hong Kong and the overwhelming use of Chinese by the local population, that isn't something we should take for granted), but on the other hand I think they could do a better job.
Inevitably, the SCMP makes heavy use of syndicated material, which is fine. Well, up to a point.
I find it annoying when they publish articles I have already read, but the craziest thing is when they make changes that "improve" the original.
Take this story in Thursday's paper (not available online for reasons that will become clear). It's about Boris Johnson, the MP for Henley who is currently shadow minister for higher education. He has a habit of speaking his mind, which gets him into trouble, but he is probably the only member of the Tory shadow cabinet (apart from David Cameron) who is well-known, and presumably he is good at his job. He certainly brightens up British politics!
The story comes from The Independent. What have they done to do it? They changed "Portsmouth South" to "local", which seems a bit pointless, clarified that Ken Bigley was a British civil engineer who was in Iraq, and that The Spectator is a magazine, and explained that "Cameron" is David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party. OK, fair enough.
Then they changed "Conservatism" to conservatism, but their supreme achievement was managing to mangle the story horribly so that it says that Mike Hancock beat Boris Johnson in the last election. Clearly he didn't, because if he had then Boris would not be an MP, and if he had been a candidate in Portsmouth then even he wouldn't be saying bad things about the place.
Later in the Independent's story it refers to Boris as "the Henley-on-Thames MP" but that was also edited out in the SCMP version, though they did leave in a reference to his constituency being in Oxford, which would have been a big clue to anyone who knows their English counties.
Independent articles disappear behind a paywall after a few days, but this is the original if you are quick enough (highlights indicate parts that were randomly removed):
Mike Hancock, the Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South, went further, demanding he recant publicly, just as he did following comments in The Spectator about Liverpool's grieving in the wake of the murder of Ken Bigley. "He is living up to his reputation of being a buffoon and a prat," said Mr Hancock, who beat the local Tory candidate at the last election by 3,000. "He is talking out of his arse and this is typical of Cameron's Conservatism - it is a pity that someone who aspires to be a minister should make comments like these. It's pathetic. He should walk barefoot to Portsmouth and apologise and even that won't be enough."
Then he got personal. "And for him to talk about people with a weight problem is ridiculous. If you imagine the supreme example of manly fitness, Boris Johnson is not the name that comes to the fore," he said.
But the Conservative Party - despite harbouring reasonable chances in both the city's constituencies at the next election - was standing by its man. A spokesman said: "Boris speaking his mind, in only the way Boris can, is preferable any day to Labour and Lib Dem politicians who try to cover up the truth."
The Safer Portsmouth Partnership, which tackles crime and antisocial behaviour in the city, also responded to the Henley-on-Thames MP's comments. It pointed out that Portsmouth has 1,146 "problem drug users" compared to 1,343 in Southampton, 1,155 in Reading, 3,380 in Brighton & Hove, 3,000 in Bournemouth and 7,648 in Bristol.
And in Oxfordshire, which includes Mr Johnson's constituency, there are between 2,000 and 2,500 problem drug users, according to figures from Eaton Research Associates.