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Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 10:10

A real threat to press freedom

By Ho Lok-Sang

Hong Kong’s press freedom, along with freedom of speech, is under threat. Against this background, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) was born. According to the HKFP website, “Hong Kong Free Press is a new, English language news source seeking to unite critical voices and provide quality analysis and credible reporting on local and national affairs. Free and independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.”

A real threat to press freedom There is little doubt that Hong Kong’s press freedom and freedom of speech are under threat. Yet the threat does not come from official sources. The SAR government remains as tolerant as ever of dissenting voices. Beijing has also staunchly kept its promise, allowing critics their say, as long as they stay within the law. Many “pan-democrats” keep saying that Beijing is eroding the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. Beijing’s tolerance of opposition voices expressed through the likes of Apple Daily in Hong Kong has demolished those claims. Certainly such views would not have been tolerated on the mainland.

Hong Kong’s freedom of press and freedom of speech are mainly threatened by radical members of the community, including those in the “pan-democrat” camp. Democrats are supposed to be defenders of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. But some radical “democrats” have routinely used bullying tactics to intimidate those of opposing views. One journalist, Wat Wing-yin, has regularly been bullied with abusive language for writing things the “pan-democrats” find offensive, but she has courageously continued to write what she thinks. In a more recent incident, however, after Wat wrote in support of the police, she and her family received death threats. Her home address was posted on the website, and netizens were encouraged to take “due action” against her daughters. She decided to stop her regular Ming Pao column. Shortly after this, her husband, another veteran journalist and columnist, followed suit.

In order to protect the freedoms of speech and press in the SAR, we all need to use these freedoms with respect and care. Naturally, journalists should write truthfully. This means they must not distort the facts, and must write what they genuinely think. But the pen is a mighty weapon, and it can hurt people deeply. If our society holds democracy in high regard, others must also be respected. If society believes in freedom of speech, rules need to be followed. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression do not mean people can say whatever they want.

These rules are common sense.

A belief in democracy and equal rights demands the protection of such rights, and the adherence to these simple rules. Once there is deviation from the rules, the foundations of the freedoms of speech and the press and by association, democracy, are undermined.

It is common sense that in an organization tens of thousands of members-strong, someone will break the rules, and someone will make mistakes. While it is legitimate to focus on these mistakes and to avoid repeating them, calling the police a “dark force” because officers made a mistake is an excessive use of language, and an abuse of freedom of speech.

It is not easy governing a society with over 7 million people. From time to time the aspirations of some will be frustrated. But the likening of today’s Hong Kong to the “dark ages”, the theme of a university campus concert, was an attempt to insult the police. This was another instance of the abuse of the freedom of expression.

We all want our private living space undisturbed by others. Intruding into other people’s private lives is impolite and crosses the line in regard to press freedom.

Everyone wants to live according to our own free choices. It is common sense that no one should criticize others for their religion, their sexual inclinations, or their political beliefs. Hong Kong is supposed to be an open society that encourages respect and open-minded dialogue on any issue.

Journalists mustn’t invent stories and report them as true.  Fiction writing is fiction, and it doesn’t belong in the press.

It should also be noted that Article 27 of the Basic Law says that “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.” This clause has been fully respected by the Hong Kong government and by Beijing. Any threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms of speech and press freedom clearly comes from within the community itself.

The author is the director of Centre for Public Policy Studies at Lingnan University.

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