The day before the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s (HKJA) rally for press freedom last month, Next Media Group’s Apple Daily Web sites in Taiwan and Hong Kong were brought down by hackers. These attacks were no accidents: They were well-planned and many people linked them to Chinese hackers. The question is what purpose these attacks served. Were they a warning to Next Media Group chairman Jimmy Lai (黎智英) and his newspapers, to the association or to the people of Hong Kong?
The HKJA launched the rally after a series of crackdowns on press freedom in Hong Kong. First, some Chinese advertisers abruptly withdrew their advertisements from both Apple Daily and am730, another Chinese-language Hong Kong newspaper. Next, Ming Pao editor-in-chief Kevin Lau (劉進圖) was suddenly removed, to be replaced by Malaysian journalist Chong Tien Siong (鍾天祥). Then there was Commercial Radio Hong Kong’s roughshod sacking of talk-show host Li Wei-ling (李慧玲). In November last year, the station stirred up controversy by transferring Li to an evening show after she repeatedly criticized Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英). Less then three months later, she was brutally fired.
These purges have been targeted because these media outlets have opposed the Hong Kong government and Beijing — some more, some less. Many insightful people in Hong Kong sense that this is not simply a question of whether the media are turning “red,” but is a restriction on both speech and press freedom. In the past, China tried to change things slowly to let people adjust, but now it is bringing it all on full-throttle.
With Beijing making such a big effort to purge the Hong Kong media, it is clear it has Leung’s backing. It should also be noted that the Education Bureau of Hong Kong defined Cantonese as a “dialect” earlier this year. Clearly, the bureau acted on the instructions of China’s State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. Following strong public protests, the bureau removed the controversial language, but still essentially follows the policy of “biliteracy [Chinese and English] and trilingualism [Mandarin, Cantonese and English]” (兩文三語) under the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (香港特區基本法) and continues to promote the learning of Mandarin.
In Hong Kong today, the Chinese influence and authoritarian approach is everywhere. For example, the Hong Kong government tried to launch a three-year national education course on patriotism for elementary-school students in July 2012 and a history textbook published in August last year for high-school students even suggested an exercise in which students play the role of a Chinese Communist Party member persuading others to join the party. The brainwashing has penetrated Hong Kong’s educational system. It is only a matter of time before Beijing gains complete control of the freedom of expression and press freedom, especially as Leung loyally executes Beijing’s orders. No wonder he avoided a journalist’s question about the HKJA’s call for press freedom by pretending not to hear it during a press conference not long ago.
The attacks against the Apple Daily’s Web sites were indeed a warning. China’s attacks on thought and its control of the press will become more intense and direct. Hong Kongers should stage strong protests to safeguard their last line of defense — press freedom.