Muzzling the free press

March 04, 2014 - 6:22:11 am
Hong Kong is under China rule, but in many respects the territory enjoys a lofty and better status compared to the mainland. Press freedom is one. The media in this former British-ruled territory still keeps most of the freedom of the British days, something which the media in Beijing can’t think of, though there have been serious attempts to undermine it. 

But last week, a calculated move was made to terrorise the territory’s journalists into submission. On Wednesday, when  Kevin Lau Chun-to, the well-known former chief editor of the Chinese-language daily Ming Pao, stepped out of his car near a Hong Kong restaurant he frequents for breakfast, he was savagely attacked by a man wielding a meat cleaver. Thankfully, Lau survived the attack.

Lau’s case has shocked Hong Kongers and demonstrations have been taken out in his support. Lau was dismissed in January from his post at Ming Pao in a move which was seen as another quiet but notable effort by authorities in Beijing to dampen Hong Kong’s spirit of freedom and to quash independent reporting about them anywhere in the world. The cause for the dismissal was that the newspaper had carried out several groundbreaking investigations which rattled the Chinese leadership. The newspaper participated in a probe by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that exposed how the world’s super-rich, including thousands of Chinese, have embraced the use of global tax havens. The material the ICIJ published in January showed that relatives of several senior Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping and former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, owned stakes in companies registered in offshore tax havens. After the reports were splashed by the international media, the communist leadership acted against some foreign journalists in Beijing and some foreign publications had backed down from reporting the case. 

If the communist regime could act against the foreign media, it’s understandable what it can do to the Hong Kong media. The former British colony was turned over to China in 1997; and at the time of the handover, China had promised to follow the ‘one country, two systems’ for the territory. But since then, there have been consistent efforts to torpedo this system. The political leadership in China seems to be unwilling to give to Hong Kongers what their own people in the mainland don’t enjoy.  There is no evidence yet of who carried out the attack, but there is no doubt that the attack will send shivers down the spines of journalists who dare to attack the mainland establishment. Not all journalists can be coerced, but there will be a considerable number who will fear for their lives. In that sense, the attackers of Lau have achieved their objective.

But it’s up to Hong Kongers and the courageous journalists to preserve the freedom they enjoyed so far.