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What’s happening to press freedom?

In Hong Kong, following a spate of incidents including the government refusal to grant a free-to-air licence to the Hong Kong Television Network and the replacement of an outspoken programme host by Commercial Radio, the Ming Pao newspaper announced the replacement of its chief editor and the management of AM730, a free newspaper, claiming that advertising had been pulled because of its editorial stance.

These incidents have raised public concern over press freedom in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association, in its 2013 annual report on press freedom, listed a number of cases indicating restriction on freedom of expression and even freedom of the press.

The report points out frankly, “Hong Kong’s press freedom is now under attack on two fronts. On the one hand, the chief executive is tightening the screws. On the other hand, the new Chinese leaders are exercising tighter control over the media, both on the mainland and in Hong Kong.”

The report also mentions the trend of the Hong Kong government to co-opt media owners.

Whether the long cherished freedom of expression and the press will be eroded or not is a matter of extreme concern.

The Church affirms the social implications of the mass media. In Ethics in Communications, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications states, “Social communication benefits society by facilitating informed citizen participation in the political process. The media draw people together for the pursuit of shared purposes and goals, thus helping to form and sustain authentic political communities.

“Media are indispensable in today’s democratic societies. They supply information about issues and events, office holders and candidates for office. They enable leaders to communicate quickly and directly with the public about urgent matters. They are important instruments of accountability, turning the spotlight on incompetence, corruption, and abuses of trust, while also calling attention to instances of competence, public-spiritedness, and devotion to duty” (8).

It has been claimed that the approach to reporting by some local media is not healthy, so the imposition of certain restrictions is justifiable. But as far as media ethics are concerned, both the Church and many other social organisations have urged the media to reflect on, abide by and continually improve their professional ethics, and this is taken seriously by local media.

However, if power is used to restrict press freedom or self-censorship, the ultimate victim will be the public. What freedom of the press and freedom of expression safeguard is the public right to know and is the foundation for popular participation in social affairs.

Freedom of expression and the press is affirmed in Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”


January 24 was the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of writers and journalists, and at this moment when freedom of the press is being seriously challenged, St. Francis de Sales can inspire to us give attention to the media environment in Hong Kong and safeguard a free space for an open information flow. SE