Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hong Kong's Press Freedom in Jeopardy

Rabin Man Shakya

It was in 2004 when I was going to Nepal from the US back and forth, I was flying aboard Cathay Pacific Boeing via Hong Kong that I had a chance  to read English language newspapers published from Hong Kong like the South China Morning Post. I was pretty much impressed by news, views, features and editorial contents of the Hong Kong newspapers and I must say that South China Morning Post was an example of a quality newspaper, even when Hong Kong was already a part of Peoples' Republic of China.

But, today perennial tug of war is going on between the independent journalism and pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong. And the independent Hong Kong news outlets are already feeling strong pressure from Beijing to toe its line. As a result, the Hong Kong newspapers have been hamstrung by the increasing as well as overt and covert interference by Beijing.

According to news stories published recently, officers from the anti-corruption agency in Hong Kong searched the home of the media tycoon Jimmy Lai on Thursday, a month after leaked documents suggested  that he had made substantial donations to local pro-democracy parties and politicians. This sudden search of Lai's home has been termed "political persecution" by Hong Kong media.

Jimmy Lai is an outspoken supporter of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. Lai owns Apple Daily, one of the influential Chinese language daily newspaper in Hong Kong with sales of 190,000 copies. Likewise, in February this year a prominent independent Hong Kong journalist Kevin Lau Chun-to was assaulted and was seriously wounded. The Hong Kong journalists have been organizing rallies to protest what they feel as "waning press freedom".

Before its sovereignty was handed over to China in 1997, Hong Kong was one of the best epitomes of the highest degrees of press freedom in Asia. But now Hong Kong ranks 61st of 180 countries in 2014 Reporters Without Borders (RWB) Press Freedom Index.

Not long ago, RWB stated:"A recent visit to Hong Kong by RWB allowed the organization to hear from numerous journalists, netizens and information freedom defenders. They all shared the view that freedom of information is eroding, with press freedom hampered by self-censorship as well as pressure from within some news organizations."

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