Journalists warn on China’s influence

WORDS OF CAUTION::Media experts said that journalists and editors in Macau and Hong Kong are increasingly imposing self-censorship and avoiding agitating their governments

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

Sun, Sep 01, 2013 - Page 3

China could influence Taiwan by getting its hands on media organizations, as it did in Hong Kong and Macau, journalists from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau warned yesterday during a conference in Taipei.

While Taiwanese are becoming more concerned with China’s influence over media outlets in the country — which triggered demonstrations against Want Want Group’s plans to merge cable service provider China Network Systems and the Next Media as Want Want chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) has close ties with Chinese officials, as well as investments in China — journalists from Hong Kong and Macau said that what is happening in their respective territories could happen to Taiwan if Taiwanese do not act now.

“While Beijing claims that it is implementing the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, it has, in fact, been emphasizing the ‘one country’ part since the end of 2003, and is tightening its control over Hong Kong, including its media,” Hong Kong Journalist Association (HKJA) chairperson Sham Yee-lan (岑倚蘭) said at the conference on media development hosted by the Association of Taiwan Journalists.

“In fact, in the past two decades, Beijing has declared at least three times that it would ‘retake media outlets in Hong Kong,’ making them speak for the Chinese government,” Sham said.

Citing results of a survey conducted by the HKJA, Sham said that about 30 percent of journalists in Hong Kong said that they impose self-censorship before filing news reports, 34 percent said that they would think twice before filing reports that criticize the Hong Kong government, and 50 percent said that they would hesitate to criticize the Chinese government.

“According to Reporters without Borders, freedom of the press in Hong Kong ranked 18th in the world in 2002, but dropped to 58th this year, falling far behind Taiwan’s 47th,” Sham said.

Macau Journalist Association director Connie Pang (彭靄慈) said that, with a much smaller market than Hong Kong, the situation for journalists and editors in Macau is much worse than in Hong Kong.

She said that, when more than 1,000 people took to the streets on May 1 last year to protest against various Macau government policies, while also urging democratic reforms and protection of freedom of the press, many local media outlets chose to not report on the march or downplayed it, and a Hong Kong journalist was denied entry into Macau.

“Most journalists have been reminded that, while they may criticize Macau government officials, they should not criticize Macau’s chief executive, so that he can maintain a good image in the media,” Pang said.

In addition, the Macau government is also trying to amend the Press Law (出版法) and the Audio-visual Broadcasting Act (視聽廣播法), to tighten government control over the media.

“Ironically, we sometimes have to learn about what’s going on in Macau through Hong Kong media,” she said.

Association of Taiwan Journalists chairwoman Chen Hsiao-yi (陳曉宜) said that the public and those working in the media must act to stop Taiwan turning into the next Hong Kong or Macau.

“However, I must say that it’s very difficult: On the one hand, we are fighting against media monopoly, but on the other, we need the media for our campaign efforts,” she said.