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SCMP instructs its journalists to curb use of ‘locust’ term used to describe mainland Chinese

Hong Kong Golden Forum ad in Apple Daily

‘Locust’ ad from 2012

The editorial management team at Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post has instructed its journalists and editors to curb the use of the word ‘locust’ to describe mainland Chinese.

The term was coined by anti-Beijing campaign group Hong Kong Golden Forum in 2012, which accused mainland Chinese of stripping the territory of its resources in a press ad (pictured, right) in Apple Daily. The ad featured the swarming insect overlooking the Hong Kong skyline.

Recent reports on street demonstrations against the rising number of mainland Chinese expected to visit the city have been described as “anti-locust protests”, a term SCMP bosses do not want used unless “absolutely necessary”.

An email sent to staff from the SCMP’s editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei last week read:

Recently there have been protests in Hong Kong against mainland Chinese in which they have been referred to as “locusts”. The protests have been described as “anti-locust” protests.

Stories in the Post should not use the terms ‘locust’ or ‘anti-locust’ in this context unless they are absolutely necessary, for instance if they appear in a direct quote essential to the story. Instead, stick to factual, neutral language such as: protests against mainland visitors, or anti-mainlander protests, for example.

Another email, sent to staff this week, added:

I thought it would make sense to more fully detail the thinking of the SCMP’s senior editors on the subject [of the use of the term ‘locust’]. SCMP stands for responsible journalism which is free from bias. We do not stereotype, we do not tolerate bigotry or prejudice and we do not use racial epithets.

The term ‘locust’ is clearly being employed as a slur and there is no reason for such inflammatory language to routinely feature on our news file and risk becoming seen as SCMP-endorsed shorthand to describe people from the mainland.

The move to curb the use of the term has prompted some to raise concerns of self censorship at the SCMP – a long-running accusation leveled against the paper since the handover of Hong Kong to China after British rule came to an end in 1997. Yiu-ming, assistant professor of journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University, told The Standard newspaper that he feared the decision was politically motivated.

“I don’t believe that using the word locust is promoting bias, and quoting the word does not necessarily mean that the paper agrees with the mindset. I think it is overwhelmingly sensitive,” he said.

The news emerges on a violent day for Hong Kong’s newspaper industry. The former editor of Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao, whose sacking has triggered demonstrations against a perceived retreat of press freedom, was stabbed while he was walking to his car. Police are investigating the matter.

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