Originally scheduled for May 23, 2020, Hong Kong Journalists Association’s 52nd gala dinner has been postponed twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With 2020 nearing its end, the only certainty of the pandemic is uncertainty. Public anxieties about the virus are lingering. Also taking into consideration the Government’s social distancing restrictions, we decided to postpone our annual general gathering of journalists with our working partners to May 2021. We are deeply grateful to our sponsors for their continued support for this year’s dinner and for the team. We apologised for the inconvenience caused. We lost an opportunity together with friends. When the health crisis is over, we believe we will feel more cherished and helpful for next year’s get-together. With our masks off, together we will enjoy a relaxed and happy evening.
“Fearless is the theme of our rescheduled dinner and special bulletin this year. Ignited by the now-shelved extradition bill, protests saw violence, then morphed into a protracted social movement. Society plunged into chaos and turbulence. The theme slogans had rubbed the most sensitive nerth of the Chinese Central Government. In a shocking move aimed at restoring order, the Chinese National people‘s Congress Standing Committee promulgated a national security law for Hong Kong on June 30. It took effect on July 1.
For more than 500 days after protests erupted in early June last year, every day was a long day-no thanks to the political storm and a deadly virus. Reporters, being on the frontline at the juncture of historical change, reported that ever-changing personalities and events. They were confronted with a host of difficulties in their reporting activities. For the first time in several decades, they have encountered unprecedented threats from police violence and harsh law. The air of press freedom was wearing thin. Threats bred anxieties and fears, doubts and hesitation. But I believe we will not give up journalist at work. We will persist fearlessly. We feel uncertain about whether we can persist as firmly as we have been. We know certainly our road ahead will get narrower if we are afraid and back off.
I took up the post of Chairman of HKJA in July 2017. I was worried about the outbreak of violent confrontation whenever there were rallies and demonstrations in the past year or so. Teargas canisters were fired again in Admiralty on June 12. Reporters had become the target of police officers. Some of them vented their frustrations in their encounters with journalists. As clashes between police and protesters continued, police violence towards journalists also grew worse. It came as a surprise to me that journalists were treated as enemies by the Police. To me, May 20 is a special date. For the first time since protest broke out, HKJA and Press Photographers Association and two other media organisations were invited to meet with Police Commissioner Chris Tang and his senior management on the issue of reporting in public places.
The May 2oth meeting originated from the ordeal group of journalists who covered the protest in Mong Kok on May 10, this year’s Mother’s Day. Late evening, police officers act to drive away civilians, or alleged to have participated in an unlawful assembly. On several sites, reporters were targeted by police officers they were pepper-sprayed. I received pictures of journalists there being searched by police officers at the scene. I watched with grief and indignation as reporters were being repeatedly humiliated by police officers. I forwarded one of the pictures to a member of the Police‘s management, asking him, “Is this the Police’s way of facilitating the press in their reporting?” On the following day, I and the Press Photographers Association had sent a joint letter to Tang for an urgent meeting. The meeting was fixed for May 20.
Hong Kong people woke up in the morning of May 20 to be shocked by news reports that said the NPC Standing Committee would hold a session on May 21 to discuss the drafting of national security law for Hong Kong. An official announcement would be made later that evening. Anti-extradition bill protests had resulted in serious clashes between police and protesters. Reporters had often been targeted by police officers. They were obstructed from reporting. Verbal insults have become common. One of the worst cases of this kind took place in the evening of Mother’s Day. Our meeting with the Police ended after almost three hours. During the meeting I and PPA representatives had repeatedly demanded an apology from the police for their handling of the press. Subsequently, Tang had offered an apology that lacked sincerity. I did not feel delighted; I was at a loss. Police should bear responsibility for the mistakes they made. To say sorry is a must. It was 105 minutes into the meeting. What we got was an unreal apologies-and a load of rhetoric.
I was exhausted when the meeting ended. I had said what I had to say. I know it is futile, but I have to say that I have to. I watched the breaking news after I finished a press briefing. It was officially confirmed that the NPC will directly legislate national security for Hong Kong. It could not be more ridiculous. We had made an enormous efforts to call on the Police to stop violence. At long last, we had a chance to sit down and talk.
An apology without a heart was all we could get. Then came a national security law. The scope of the law is so broad and its provisions week. Media could fall into traps of the law. The national security units like effective monitoring in their use of power. The room for a free press is further shrinking. Self-censorship will get worst. Credibility rating of the media by the public will continue to decline.
To say the media environment is getting difficult is stating the obvious. With the economy devastated by COVID-19, the business environment for the media is getting from bad to worse. And his political dispute in the society have worsened divisiveness. The role of the media and the reporting of journalists have caused a row in the society. The sprouting of new media has impacted the traditional media. Changes in jobs in society so new types of journalists such as citizen journalists the new phenomenon and has become a source of controversy within the media and in the society. The Government is facing calls for greater supervision over the media through, for instance, an official press accreditation system.
Media plays the role of the fourth estate in society. But they are not do so-called “emperor without a crown”. Everyone must abide by the law. Journalists are no exception. They are being watched by the public. Opinion surveys show the credibility rating of the media has dropped. The emergence of negative perception towards the media is a warning sign, reminding us of the inadequacies in our works. I said at last year’s dinner “The scents of plum blossom emanate from chilly winter. The tougher the environment, the more challenging the work will be for journalists. Truth is even more important as society gets more chaotic and unsettled. The work of seeking the truth will face more risks and dangers, but also more rewarding.
We still believe journalists will still persists in getting to the bottom of truth without fear, telling the truth – and we will never feel alone.