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Freedom of the press

The feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of writers and journalists, is on January 24. Known as The Gentleman Saint, This gentle and humble Doctor of the Church is well known for his writings on spiritual formation and pamphlets in defence of Catholic doctrine. As a Chinese saying goes, “A person of noble virtue speaks with actions and acts for a just cause.” St. Francis is also an inspiration and reminder to be righteous in word and deed, and to pursue the truth.

World Communications Day also falls on January 24. Last September, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications announced that Pope Benedict XVI had chosen Social Networks: Portals of Truth and Faith; New Spaces for Evangelisation, as this year’s theme. It encouraged people to make good use of social networking to safeguard human dignity and fight against injustice, to help people seek knowledge, build relationships and meet Christ.

The recent, heavy-handed censorship of the New Year edition of the Southern Weekly newspaper by Guangdong’s propaganda officials triggered a strong backlash. The incident provoked protests from reporters and media people from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and around the world. On the Internet, even high-profile bloggers in mainland China voiced their objections, while people also protested outside the offices of the newspaper. 

The media—print, broadcast and digital—has a responsibility monitor government policies and protect the rights of ordinary people. This violation of media rights finds a parallel in the tragic and brutally fatal gang rape of a young Indian woman by men who defied the law and flouted human rights and dignity. 

It is lamentable that these two great, ancient civilisations, which are becoming increasingly influential in the global community, should be found wanting in this way.

The Church media in China is also suppressed. It has a presence on the Internet and does its best to protect the freedom of information. However, reports are published on sensitive issues such as the illicit ordination of bishops or the situation of auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, from Shanghai, the authorities demand that these be taken down or replaced by other articles. If not, websites will be shut down or come under fire from government departments. 

Article 35 of Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, stipulates, “Citizens … enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Further, Article 36 also states that, “Citizens … enjoy freedom of religious belief.” 

Last December, the general secretary of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the current edition of the constitution, said, “No organisation or individual has the special right to overstep the constitution and law.” He added, “We should endeavour to address the needs of the people with fairness according to the law and let the people experience fairness and justice in every judicial case.”

We hope that the Chinese government will honour the constitution by protecting the basic freedoms of the people and that the new leadership will fulfill its pledges by respecting the different faiths, including Catholicism, and allow them to enjoy real freedom of belief. 

We also hope that Hong Kong people will safeguard such core values as the freedom of the press and the spirit of rule of law; the core values which we all greatly cherish, and push for universal suffrage as a step towards a real democratic society. SE