Hong Kong's last British governor is suing a company controlled by media mogul Rupert Murdoch after it canceled publication of a book criticizing China's Communist government, a newspaper reported today.
The Daily Telegraph said the recent decision to cancel publication of Chris Patten's "East and West" was in response to worries it would damage Murdoch's business interests in China.
Patten, Hong Kong's governor from 1992-97, filed suit Thursday in London's High Court against HarperCollins Publishers, the newspaper said. It was unclear what damages he was seeking.
Rival publisher Macmillan has agreed to publish the book in September in the United States and Britain.
The Telegraph, a rival to Murdoch's Times of London, quoted what it said was a January 20 internal memo between senior executives of two Murdoch publishing companies, confirming Murdoch's opposition to publishing Patten's book.
"KRM (Murdoch) has outlined to me the negative aspects of publication which I fully understand," Edward Bell, the London-based chairman of HarperCollins UK, wrote to Anthea Disney, chairwoman of News America Publishing and HarperCollins' parent company.
News America, based in New York, is a subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corporation.
The book is believed to contain criticism of the Chinese government and its human rights record. It also reportedly makes unflattering comments about other authoritarian regimes in Asia.
Patten had a strained relationship with China's leadership for much of his five years as governor. Beijing regularly bad-mouthed him with both political and personal criticism.
Details of the memo came from a legal declaration made by Stuart Proffitt, senior publisher of the main division of HarperCollins, who is suing the company for his unfair dismissal over the affair, The Daily Telegraph reported.
Proffitt said he negotiated the $200,000 contract with Patten to publish his book.
Patten has not directly commented, but The Independent newspaper quoted him as saying, "I am adamant my book will be read the way I intended it to be read."
There was no immediate comment from Murdoch or HarperCollins.
Apart from extensive business interests in Britain and the United States, Murdoch also controls STAR, a satellite TV station based in Hong Kong.
Murdoch broke off a contract with the British Broadcasting Corp. in 1994 to show the BBC's World News channel on STAR, after complaints by China's government. STAR broadcasts into several southern China cable TV stations.
Proffitt told The Daily Telegraph that he was suspended from work after refusing to support the company's statements that Patten's book was unsatisfactory.
"It would have meant, in short, both lying and doing enormous damage to my own reputation," Proffitt said.
Patten's book was "the most intelligently written have read by a politician in 15 years of publishing," he said.
Proffitt said that on February 5, he was told by a senior editor that HarperCollins had decided to drop the book. He was handed a "gagging letter" ordering him to say nothing about the decision. After twice asking why the book was canceled, Proffitt was suspended February 9.
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