I am deeply impressed by your turn-out today. It shows you all really care for what we do, for our calling, for one of our core value. A core value that is vital to our existence as Hong Kong, as part of the international community, as a free, modern society.
We have gathered to mourn the wanton destruction of a core value that is the very essence of Hong Kong, a free, vibrant society that for many years was a shining example of all that is good, progressive, dynamic, creative…a beacon of hope to those who yearned to be free, an example of what the human spirit can express and create when given the freedom to do so. Our calling is now in its death throes. In recent times we have seen:
• The violent sacking of Commercial Radio talk-show host Ms Li Wei-ling
• The air-lifting of a new Chief Editor from Malaysia to Ming Pao;
• Abrupt withdrawal of advertisements from Apply Daily and am730;
• A lawyer’s letter from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to Hong Kong Economic Journal and its columnist Lian Yi-zheng demanding an apology and retraction of an article;
• The deletion of Leung Chun-ying’s name from a Hong Kong Economic Times column by satirist Mr Adrian Chow;
• The distortion of an article by columnist Lau Yiu-siu into a campaign piece for Leung Chun-ying in Sing Tao Daily;
• The denial of a license for HKTV´s application for free TV;
• The appointment of a mainland CCCP delegate as chief editor of the South China Morning Post who then reduced a detailed report on the death of mainland democratic activist Li Wang-yang into a brief of little more than a dozen words.
In the 2012-2013 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, Hong Kong was ranked 61, a significant drop from 2002 when Hong Kong was ranked 18. And even more appalling when, before the 1997 handover, we were known in every corner of the world as the freest in the world.
In the report of US Freedom House released last May, Hong Kong was ranked 72 in terms of press freedom. Meanwhile, findings released by the Public Opinion Porgramme of the Hong Kong University a few days ago showed that people´s confidence in press freedom is the lowest since the 1997 handover.
These are published facts. The reality is worst and much, much more of self-censorship go unreported:
• In the HIT container workers´ labour dispute labour unionist and LegCo member Lee Cheuk-yan´s interview was abruptly removed leaving a space of about 400 words for the reporter to fill.
• A news photograph showing angry workers throwing dim sum glutinous rice at cardboard figures of Li Ka-shing and Yim Lui-fai of Hutchison Group was considered unsuitable to be seen by readers.
• A full-page coverage on the plight of container workers was removed.
• In the alleged corruption case involving former chief secretary Rafael Hui and the billionaire Kwok brothers, only Hui´s photograph can be printed.
• Journalists are barred from seeking academic comments from scholars To Yiu-ming, Ma Ngok and Choy Chi-keung because they are sympathic to the democratic camp.
• Reporters have been ordered to focus on “the positive impact” on Hong Kong’s retail industry in reporting on the changes mainland travelers have brought to the city. ¨Who pays you if there is no mainland individual traveler?” reporters are reminded over and over again by their supervisors.
• The banning of a story that quoted from the prospectus of a listed company of a law suit.
All these have been covered up. Nothwithstanding the fact that we produce more than 3 million copies of newspapers every day for a population of just over 7 million people.
Rosy picture. Unfortunately with only one single point of view.
Diversity, creativity, honesty have been destroyed. Truth replaced by travesty.
The realities facing the frontline reporter is simply this: Keep silent. Do as you are told. Or get out.
Once upon a time we were directed by Editors. Within the office.
Today we we get directives from Sai Wan (office of the Central Government Liaison Office), from senior government officials and the powerful corporations. The future gets ever bleaker.
Last Sunday Li Wei-ling and I attended the City Forum. She was insulted and called names in the MTR. It was most saddening. What had Wei-ling done to deserve that?
Another time almost one hundred Ming Pao staff stood outside the Ming Pao building in silent protest. I was moved. In spite of reprisal risks they courageously “spoke up” loudly and clearly for press freedom.
Reporters work long hours for pitiful wages. They do their utmost to report the truth and speak for justice. In return bully-boys are encouraged to confront them with insults and terror.
You might argue that what is happening in the media is just commercial decisions. You may even wonder why you should bother about a labour dispute between an employer and an employee. But there are no individual cases. The reality is that someone is trying to fix the Hong Kong media. Somone is out to punish reporters who do not toe their line. It is the winter of the Hong Kong media. And it is freezing out Truth.
The death of press freedom if the death of ¨One country, two systems.¨ There will only be ¨One country, one system¨ left. That means the photo of dissident Li Wang-yang hanging dead near a window that has appeared in many Hong Kong papers, being replaced by the feet of students standing on their toes to check their examination results.
Instead of the photo of empty chair at the award presentation ceremony for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo; you see a photo of empty chairs in playgrounds.
These are what our mainland peers have been doing to dodge Beijing’s media control.
Are these problems for media only? What have they to do with the people of Hong Kong?
The truth is you – the people of Hong Kong – will be the next victim. Control of the media is the vital step to controlling people´s minds. You will only know what they want you to know. In due course you will support what they want you to support. There will be no diversity. No free thinking. No personal preferences. It is terrifying.
Freedom of the press is part of the freedom of expression. The media is a means to record facts and to express views. If press freedom is destroyed, freedom of the mind is constrained. What are we without a free mind?
Yes, the media has faults. Yet, at every crisis, we are there. We stayed to the last minute on Tiananmen in 1989. We braved the deadly SARS to bring you reports from hospitals. We revealed possible improprieties by former Chief Executive Donald Tsang. We dug up the illegal underground works at the mansions of Henry Tang Yin-yen and Leung Chun-ying. We brought you issues affecting your livelihood – commercial frauds and cheats, unfounded speculations in the property market, poisonous baby milk powder, the national education curriculum etc.
If the media is gagged, who will stand up against injustice tomorrow? Yes you still have the internet. Yet, if a free press cannot be tolerated, why should freedom to express on line be allowed to continue?
Today, we rally outside of the Chief Executive´s Office to demand free space for the media and for free expression. We urge Mr Leung not to forget that he signed a Press Freedom Covenant with the Hong Kong Journalists Association during his election campaign. We urge him to honor his pledge to safeguard Hong Kong´s press freedom.
Dear friends, this is an awakening movement. The loss of press freedom is your business. Support this campaign. Today is only the beginning. The more people join us the stronger we shall be, and the louder “No” will be sent to our suppressors and oppressors. Fight for Hong Kong’s core value to the very end. Join us now so we fight as one!
Sham Yee-lan, Chairperson of Hong Kong Journalists Association