Sat, Feb 22, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Shackled press spurs concern for freedoms

By Lu I-ming 呂一銘

Several days ago, Commercial Radio Hong Kong (CRHK) announced the imminent dismissal of the popular Hong Kong broadcaster Lee Wai Ling (李慧玲). This is another serious incursion against the freedom of the press in Hong Kong, especially coming as it does in the wake of the removal of Chinese-language broadsheet Ming Pao’s chief editor Kevin Lau (劉進圖) and China-based companies’ withdrawal of advertising from the publication am730 and the Hong Kong edition of the Apple Daily.

The Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 “World Press Freedom Index” report quotes Hong Kong Journalists Association vice chairperson Shirley Yam (任美貞) and Claudia Mo (毛孟靜), member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, as saying that the 2012 Hong Kong chief executive election was a turning point in terms of Beijing’s interference with the press, in which officials from China’s Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government played a crucial role. Also, the huge operating costs involved in broadcast television media make it very difficult for an independent press to survive, amplifying Beijing’s potential influence. In China, too, the authorities maintain an iron grip on licensing electronic media, and can even refuse a license application without a reason. All of this amounts to a very worrying situation indeed.

In the same way, there are some Taiwanese media barons who, hoping to secure a slice of the huge commercial pie of China’s market, continue to pander to Beijing, even buying media outlets that have proven to be a thorn in Beijing’s side. The report also says that Beijing has been investing in the media in Taiwan, evading strict rules prohibiting Chinese investment in Taiwanese media by using Hong Kong-based financing. Also, reporters from the Central News Agency have revealed government interference, saying that “certain politically-sensitive material must be approved by the editor-in-chief before it can be broadcast.”

In addition to the Reporters Without Borders report, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has warned of the enormous pressure that press freedom in Taiwan and Hong Kong is under from China, their own governments and the media barons across the region. The report urges an investigation of the situation, as it poses a serious threat to the structural role of public oversight.

The latest evidence is China’s denial of visas to Taiwanese reporters covering the meeting between Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) and his counterpart, Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍). Even the US-based Freedom House criticized the move.

In the 2014 “World Press Freedom Index” rankings, Taiwan has slipped from 47th place to 50th, and post-handover Hong Kong has continued to fall down the rankings, from 18th 12 years ago to 61st. China, meanwhile, has consistently been listed as a country with no press freedom. With increasing arrests of journalists and online commentators at the orders of Beijing authorities, continued suppression of online dissidents, censorship and monitoring of online content and the restrictions on foreign journalists, China ranks 171st.

Wang spoke at Nanjing University of Taiwan’s freedoms of the press and of expression and of the core democratic values the nation holds, but failed to mention that members of the Taiwanese press were kept out of the cross-strait press forum covering the historic talks he had just had with his Chinese counterpart. Given the context of China’s suppression of press freedoms, it is easy to see why.

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