Members of Hong Kong's Fourth Estate out in force
at many a Hong Kong pro-democracy protest
Today is World Press Freedom Day. On its dedicated United Nations website, this year's theme is trumpeted as “Information as a Public Good”, which is supposed to serve as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good.
Ironically, those now in control of Hong Kong's public broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), have chosen today to show their very much not subscribing to that idea(l). First came confirmation that it has indeed gone about deleting a number of its shows and reports that previously had been up on its dedicated Youtube channel and Facebook page, including coverage of the 2014 Umbrella Movement and 2019 extradition bill turned "five demands, not one less" protests.
In reporting on this development, Bao Choy, the producer of RTHK's award-winning Hong Kong Connection: Who Owns the Truth? episode about the July 21st, 2019, Yuen Long mob attacks, was prompted to comment that: "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." For his part, David Webb (@webbhk on Twitter) was moved to share a quote from George Orwell's 1984: "History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right".
Over the weekend, I heard of Hong Kongers rushing to save copies of RTHK programs, with instructions on how to do so being shared on social media. Sadly, people were unable to save Nabela Qoser from the fate that had been telegraphed for some months now. Specifically, her contract has not been renewed by RTHK and so will leave the embattled public broadcaster at the end of the month.
It is my sincere hope that this warrior of a reporter who has won the hearts of many Hong Kongers will get hired pronto by another news media. To be sure, press freedom in Hong Kong is under serious attack but there do remain some respectable and respected news organizations operating here.
Make no mistake though: Hong Kong's press freedom has been much impacted by the coming into being of China's national security law for Hong Kong late last June, and if wasn't as though it wasn't already under threat before. To coincide with World Press Freedom Day, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) released its yearly survey on press freedom today and the results were not pretty, with: 99 per cent of its respondents stating that the Beijing-enacted national security law had harmed the city’s free press; 85 per cent of journalists surveyed agreeing with the statement that Hong Kong government was the source of suppression on free press; and the journalists surveyed giving 32.1 points out of 100 for press freedom in Hong Kong – an all-time low since the local press freedom index was introduced (in 2013).
Sadly, it really is not looking like things are going to get better any time soon. And I am saying this about Hong Kong in general as well as the press in Hong Kong. Among the (other) news covered by RTHK today was that concerning the resignation as People Power's chairman of Ray Chan -- one of the people who ran in the democratic camp primaries last July and was subsequently arrested, then charged with "subversion" under China's national security law for Hong Kong and remanded in custody since February while awaiting trial later this month.
Some time ago, Chan and a number of fellow defendants (e.g., Claudia Mo) began deleting their social media accounts. And his resignation from People Power follows in the wake of a number of others (e.g., the Civic Party's Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki, Jeremy Tam and Lee Yue-shun, and the Labour Party's Carol Ng) feeling obliged to resign from their parties. (Today also has seen Lam Cheuk-ting's resignation from the Democratic Party, although this piece of news doesn't appear to have as wide reportage in the English language press as yet.)
These actions presumably were taken to convince the Hong Kong and Chinese governments that they are not dangerous threats in order to be able to released on bail, if not permanently. But what this also means is that, even if the individuals concerned end up being found innocent of the security law charge against them, they may no longer feel able to speak up for Hong Kong.
Which gets us back to the press. Yes, they cover the news. But sometimes, they also are the news, not least because and/or when they get attacked by the police and the authorities. And then there are those members of the Fourth Estate who end up becoming political activists and politicians. Among the more notable examples in Hong Kong are Emily Lau, Claudia Mo and Gwyneth Ho. And it says so much about Hong Kong that two out of that trio are currently in detention (despite not having been found guilty of any charges -- as yet) and thus adding to the overcrowding at its detention centers that the Correctional Services Department (CSD) has complained of!