After the first month of being Chairperson, I can only use the word “busy” to describe how it is. Although I was partly prepared for this, I was still surprised by how many tasks there are to do.
This month, the HKJA expressed its views on different issues. Among them, what dissatisfied us the most was how the government took the initiative to release information to some chosen media organisations regarding the consultation on the proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST). This selective release of information put some news media at a disadvantage. The HKJA considered this practice not only deprived the public of the right to information, but it also gave an impression to the industry that those who submit will prosper, and those who resist will perish.
Moreover, we were also concerned about the new draft law regarding publication of information on sudden events which was presented in the National People’s Congress. In this draft law, many definitions are ambiguous and it might hinder press freedom. If the law is passed, foreign journalists, or even mainland journalists, might easily be detained for running afoul of the law and their employers might be fined as well.
Also the situation of Ching Cheong, the chief China correspondent for Singapore’s The Straits Times newspaper, is worrying. Earlier this month, there were more than 20 organisations around the world taking part in the International Appeal to Release Ching Cheong. Although some organisations refused to join in, the number of those adding their names to the appeal has been increasing. In fact, many foreign journalists paid close attention to this case because they too are correspondents. And recent news from the mainland makes us more anxious that the mainland authorities might deny Ching Cheong’s relatives access to his trial. Not only would this deprive them of their basic rights, it would also violate the basic principles of a fair trial.
In fact, it is not only Hong Kong journalists who suffer adversity during reporting. In these years, many victims, including journalists, were murdered in the Philippines. From 1986 to July this year, 82 journalists were murdered. Just counting from January to July this year, nearly 10 journalists were murdered as well. Among these victims, many were commentators who criticized the political system and current social events. This kind of severe violence damaged press freedom. The HKJA has already expressed our resentment to the Philippine government, and urged the newly set-up special unit in the Police Department there to try its best to find out the truth and arrest the murderers. (Details can be found in the coming issue of “The Journalist”)
The “Interception of Communications and Surveillance Bill” will severely damage press freedom in Hong Kong. Although at the time of writing we do not have the result, it is very likely that the bill will be passed. Under these circumstances, we have no choice but to remain alert when carrying our duties. Meanwhile, we should scrutinize the government to see whether it will abuse its power in intercepting communications and surveillance. Meanwhile, we would like to extend our gratitude to Ms. Gladys Li, our honorary legal advisor, who explained to our members earlier how society will be adversely affected by the bill. The HKJA has also submitted our submission to the Secretary for Security, Mr. Ambrose Lee. Also I have met different legislators and expressed our concern, so that they can take our concern into account when examining the bill.
Besides the above matters, the HKJA also cares about our colleagues’ jobs and welfare. The situation of Mr. Wong Kok Wah’s, the former Chairman of the HKJA, is now stable after he had a stroke while working on the mainland in late July. He will be transferred to Hong Kong for further treatment once he has received medical permission. We would like to thank some of our members, the Office of the Chief Executive, the Information Services Department and the Immigration Department for their assistance in helping Mr. Wong to return to Hong Kong rapidly.
For the Sing Pao labour dispute case, the Labour Tribunal ruled that Sing Pao would need to pay the unpaid salaries to all its previous employees. After conciliation, most of the previous employees accepted the proposal of receiving 75% of the originally claimed wages in lieu of notice on termination of contract. For those who did not accept the proposal, the Tribunal decided to have a hearing later.
Because of the Sing Pao case, the HKJA has set up a labour rights group under the membership, training and welfare subcommittee, so that we can remind employees of their own labour rights and strengthen them. Later, we will invite legal expert in this field to talk about our rights as employees. In addition, we are contacting different tertiary education institutions to urge them to provide discounts for their courses to our members.
The HKJA has decided to take a new approach to run “The Journalist” (our regular publication), like hiring a freelance editor from the industry. Details will be announced later.
Last but not least, press freedom is the cornerstone of running the media. As a member of this industry, we all have the responsibility to safeguard this value.