CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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A media mouthpiece for Beijing

 HONG KONG (SE): The 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders places China at number 176 out of 180 regions across the world, sharing with Vietnam the distinction of being named “the world’s biggest prisons for journalists and bloggers.”

China also received an individual distinction as having the world’s largest number of press freedom predators.
UCAN quoted Joseph, a Catholic media worker in mainland China, as adding a third accolade to his country’s honour list, saying that it is systematically destroying media freedom in Hong Kong, which although it used to enjoy a relatively high press freedom rating, it has dropped since becoming a special administrative region of China.
Hong Kong slid from 69 to 73 in the 2017 freedom ranking.
“Hong Kong is the microphone for dissenting voices that are banned in mainland China. These voices are heard by the world thanks to press freedom in Hong Kong. It is the last hope and lighthouse of press freedom in China,” Joseph said.
“If there is no media freedom in Hong Kong, freedom of speech in China will be totally neglected. China will become no different from North Korea,” he added.
Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, a senior lecturer at the Department of Journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University, agrees.
“Information about human rights lawyers and activists in China has always been leaked via Hong Kong. Even different political factions of the Communist Party of China use the city to release political messages,” Lui, a former journalist, was quoted by UCAN as saying.
Some observers believe these political messages are an attempt to spread rumours aimed at influencing the situation in China to their own advantage, but for this to be effective the impression that the Hong Kong media remains independent must be sustained.
Lui notes that one of the strategies China uses to control Hong Kong media is money. The most recent case relates to the English daily, the South China Morning Post, which came under the control of Internet entrepreneur, Jack Ma Yun, one of the richest men in China in April 2016.
Money gives clout in editorial choice, control of which is the name of the game.
The paper is now strewn with comments from people described as big business tycoons or financial experts, investors or magnates, advising the city to get onto China’s One Road One Belt track and concentrate on making money, a fair enough comment, but somehow the spurious rider, and forget about local politics, is inevitably added, detracting from its credibility.
A 2016 report from the Hong Kong Journalists Association claims that the Chinese government or corporations now have direct control over or stakes in eight out of 26 mainstream media outlets in the city, or 31 per cent of the total.
Part of the money game also involves advertising, with large enterprises with ties to China simply making it known to media outlets that if they publish articles that don’t fit their political leaning, they will pull all advertising, which is the life blood of media.
Meanwhile, owners or news editors of more than 80 per cent of mainstream media have benefited from government appointments or awards.
The report claims that China implemented a policy to regain the Hong Kong media after the 1989 crackdown against the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, describing it as “a campaign to exert a controlling influence over the territory’s media so that it can be used as the Chinese government’s mouthpiece.”
However, this type of campaigning is not limited to Hong Kong.
John Fitzgerald, from Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, said at the Lowy-AMP China Series on September 19 last year that over the past seven or eight years, Beijing has embraced the idea that its special national culture and value system needs to be spread more widely abroad.
He quotes Liu Yunshan, the former director of the Central Propaganda Bureau, as saying in 2009, “Those who gain advanced communication skills, powerful communication capabilities and whose culture and values are more widely spread, are able to effectively influence the world.”
Fitzgerald then points out that in May last year, his successor in the job, Liu Qibao, was in Sydney to preside at the formal signing of a contract with Fairfax Media, Sky, the Australia-China Relations Institute and three other media outfits.
Fitzgerald described Beijing’s purpose as seeking to restrict Australia’s freedom of speech, religion and assembly.
In broad terms, he described its ambition as not being to inform or persuade, as in western public relations, but monopolise and control all flows of information; to police ideology and civic conformity; and to censor all media in the country in a manner that is consistent with these functions.
“As such, it does not rely on the quality of its programming or information dissemination to succeed, but rather on what it can suppress,” he concluded.
Anthony Lam Sui-ki, an assistant professor of journalism at Hong Kong Shu Yen University, was quoted by UCAN as pointing out that the traditional print media costs a huge amount to operate, so it is possible for the Communist Party to buy and control them.
“The Communist regime is using its own communication theory: media have to fulfil their so-called social mission to implement party or government policies and so they justify tightening press freedom in Hong Kong,” Lam claims.
Lui says that criticism about the local government stance on issues like housing and education could still be free, but comment on sensitive issues about the mainland government would be restricted.
“Hong Kong independence, as an example, is something the central government will not tolerate. Some legal scholars are trying to push an opinion that independence ideology is not part of the freedom of speech granted by the Basic Law,” he adds.
Press freedom concerns prompted Reporters Without Borders to pass over Hong Kong as a choice for the location for its first office in Asia, choosing Taiwan instead.
Its director, Christophe Deloire, said they are worried the legal system could not ensure the proper functioning of the organisation.


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