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Friday, February 27, 1998 Published at 19:44 GMT


Patten sues over scrapped book deal
image: [ The China syndrome.... ]
The China syndrome....

Philip Baker, Human rights in China: The Chinese threaten dire consequences to prevent truthful reporting (1'55")
The former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten is suing a company owned by media giant Rupert Murdoch because it dropped plans to publish his memoirs.

Mr Patten's lawyer said Mr Murdoch was perceived to have interfered with the book before the firm, Harper Collins, gave it the axe.

The former governor had a tempestuous relationship with China, which strongly opposed his proposals to expand democracy in the colony before control was handed back to Beijing in June 1997. Mr Patten uses the book to give a frank account of his dealings with China.

But memos sent from Harper Collins top editor, published in The Daily Telegraph, indicate that Mr Murdoch felt that the book was too critical of China.

Rupert Murdoch's media empire has made efforts to expand into the huge Chinese market

Enemies on the case

Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper rivals gleefully reported the story, saying the tycoon had scrapped the book because he was nervous that its criticisms of Beijing could damage his business interests.

The Daily Telegraph ran the front-page headline "Why Murdoch killed Patten book." It devoted two inside pages to the story.

"The tycoon has long been a placator of the Chinese authorities in order to protect his extensive Far East business interests," wrote the Independent newspaper.

The Times and The Sun, run by Mr Murdoch's News International PLC, did not run the Patten story.

However, a spokeswoman for News International insisted that Mr Murdoch "at no time" tried to change Chris Patten's book. She said that from the start, Mr Murdoch had expressed "dissatisfaction" about Harper Collins' decision to publish it.

Book gets the axe

Mr Patten submitted 70,000 words to Harper Collins in January, representing about the first two-thirds of the book, court documents filed by his attorneys said.

But on February 10 Harper Collins informed Mr Patten that it would not publish the work, the documents said. The company had earlier signed a 125,000 contract for the book and already paid Mr Patten 50,000, his attorney said.

Mr Patten's book is critical of human rights in China and "gives a full and frank account of his personal dealings with the Chinese government, which is not flattering," his literary agent Michael Sissons said.

Mr Patten's editor at Harper Collins, Stuart Proffitt, was suspended from his job when he argued in vain for it to be published.

The China syndrome

Mr Murdoch has a history of scrapping deals to placate the Chinese government.

In 1993, he dropped BBC World Television from his Asian television service, after he offended the Chinese in a speech.

Macmillan editor in chief: "We always wanted to publish this book" (1'37")
The journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, a friend of Chris Patten, also claims the book was dropped as a concession to the Chinese government. He called Harper Collins' decision "ludicrous and deplorable."

"For reasons that it is almost impossible to fathom, Murdoch believes that a book by Chris Patten, that deals in part with China, is too damaging to his great corporate empire to have published."

Mr Patten has now signed a new deal with rival publisher Macmillan which will ensure that his memoirs, "East and West", will be in bookshops in September.

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