The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) recently published its annual report for this year, Press Freedom Under Siege. The opening sentence of the report says that “[t]he year under review has been the darkest for press freedom for several decades...” This is something fellow journalists in Taiwan can empathize with.
In her 2007 book, Media in Hong Kong: Press freedom and political change, 1967-2005, Carol Lai (黎佩兒) gives a detailed description of the self-censorship process in Hong Kong media in about 1997. She says that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) used a carrot-and-stick strategy to greatly reduce advertising revenue for disobedient media outlets, even causing them to close down. The result was that the media did not dare criticize China.
The situation described in the book is still alive and well today: In this year and last year alone, former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau (劉進圖) was attacked and stabbed, talk-show host Li Wei-ling (李慧玲) was sacked by Commercial Radio Hong Kong, advertisers turned away from Apple Daily and am730, another Chinese-language publication, and the Hong Kong government refused to issue free licenses to the Hong Kong Television Network. Even Ming Pao had to change its July 1 headline “Demonstration for universal suffrage biggest in decades” by removing “for universal suffrage.” Chinese officials increased the pressure by “instructing” Hong Kong media to be “rational and objective,” and to report positively on the Chinese economy, among other things.
According to Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index for this year, Hong Kong has dropped from 18th place in the world 12 years ago to 61st place this year.
On June 22, Bloomberg View published a column with the title “Is This the Death of Hong Kong?” in which the author William Pesek stated that “Hong Kong has nothing to learn from Beijing,” a case in point being the diametrical opposition between press freedom and news censorship — China’s press freedom is pretty much the worst in the world, ranking 175th of 180 in the Press Freedom Index.
Taiwan is not much better off. After the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) returned to power, Taiwan’s press freedom ranking has dropped to No. 50 due to government interference and pro-Chinese media outlets. One good example of this is that most Taiwanese media outlets have not commented on the HKJA’s latest annual report.
The values, lifestyles and level of democratization in Hong Kong and Taiwan differ vastly from China. Taiwan and Hong Kong are close, and seeing the problems facing Hong Kong, the “Pearl of the East,” people in these two places should bring their intelligence and moral courage into cooperation with other democracies and friends to form a technological network to keep everyone informed.
Media circles in particular need to work together and connect with democracy activists in China and social activists in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, so that they can meet the CCP’s propaganda and sycophantic “red media outlets” head-on by opposing China’s “united front” strategy and brainwashing attempts.
They should even be able to take the initiative by contacting international media outlets and organizations to provide dynamic information about the freedom of expression in Taiwan and Hong Kong in order to build international sympathy and support.