A demonstration over the weekend by Hong Kong journalists showed pretty clearly that they have not given up on rule of law, free speech and freedom of press. (Hong Kong journalists take to streets to march for press freedom)
After all, these things are guaranteed in Hong Kong until 2047 — by international treaty.
Ever since China took over Hong Kong (1997 for those of you who could not remember), journalists have been under pressure to bow to the party line coming from Beijing.
As long as there has been a Hong Kong, most media owners have done all they could to keep the ruling government happy. That means before 1997 it was bowing to London.
The difference between pre-1997 and now, however, is that now many of the tycoons owning media outlets are afraid of hurting their gazzilion-dollar deals in mainland China. So they fire anyone on their staff who does not push a pro-Beijing position.
China learned early on in its opening to the West that it can influence organizations by making life (and business) difficult for foreign businesses trying to do business with the Middle Kingdom. It is simple, under the structure of ruling in China, they see no difference between the government and business operations. (That is changing a bit but not really that much.) Likewise, because, under Communist rule, the media are just another arm of the ruling party, this must also be so in other countries.
They project their policies and perceptions on the rest of the world — as many do — but unlike most other governments, Beijing ignores facts when presented to them. They still think they can run things by either brute force or claiming any objective reporting on human rights violations in the country either “violates Chinese sovereignty” or (and this is my favorite) “hurts the feelings of all Chinese people.”
The pressure against independent media in Hong Kong has stepped up under the latest power shift in China. And this time the pressure is not as indirect as it once was. Complaints from Beijing about how and what the Hong Kong media report are becoming more common and more strident. Pressure from scared media owners and the Hong Kong government has led to a perceived loss of press freedom in the territory.
Oh, and staying with the theme of this site, why should American journalists or the American people care about all this?
- In Hong Kong freedoms are under attack. There is the basic American belief that freedom — of press, speech, assembly, etc — is a good thing.
- Hong Kong remains a major economic powerhouse. Without a free press, information on company valuation, risks and benefits — all the stuff that businesses use to decide investment strategy — is questionable. (Why do you think no one trusts the mainland China media when it comes to economic news?) A lot of US companies — and US jobs — depend on accurate and unbiased information.
- The guarantees of civic freedom in Hong Kong are part of an international treaty, not some wink and nod arrangement. International treaties are supposed to mean something. Adherence to these treaties is designed to prevent armed conflict.