Traditionally, Hong Kong residents have been very vocal in their opinions, but lately journalists feel that the freedom of the press is being squashed as never before.
This past Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets — in what they dubbed “Free Speech, Free Hong Kong” rally — to protest what they see as an alarming trend of media censorship in their homeland, which is a former British colony.
The protest follows another demonstration over a week ago, when thousands participating in the Hong Kong Standard Chartered Marathon displayed blue ribbons to raise awareness of the deteriorating situation regarding press freedoms.
According to this weekend’s rally organizer, veteran journalist Shirley Yam — who spoke to CNN — the freedom of the press situation in Hong Kong is currently the worst that she has witness during her career:
“Headlines were added, complete pages were removed, photos were cancelled, interviews were bought, columnists were sacked. We get calls from senior government officials, we get calls from tycoons, saying ‘we don’t want to see this in your paper.'”
“It’s sad and terrifying,”
On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong — located in the southern China coast — became one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China — the other one is Macau — but retained its government system and its constitution stipulates that the country will have a “high degree of autonomy” in all matters except foreign relations and military defense, for which they adhere to China.
Hong Kong has always enjoyed a high ranking in international polls including its economic freedom, financial and economic competitiveness, quality of life, corruption perception in studies conducted by the UN and WHO and had the longest life expectancy in the world in 2012.
However, now many see — as the country becomes closer to China — that there are attempts at squashing their precious freedom of speech, which they have always prided themselves in having.
Among other things, protesters at this weekend’s Hong Kong rally were complaining about the firing of prominent government critic Li Wei-ling from Commercial Radio, which many believe was intended to appease local officials who are in the process of renewing the station’s broadcasting license.
Protesters also voiced their discontent at last month’s firing of Ming Pao newspaper editor Kevin Lau —who had reported on official corruption and human-rights violations.
China made specific promises to keep the freedom of speech intact guaranteeing Hong Kong press freedom when it took over the city from Britain in 1997, but the ruling Communist Party — which doesn’t allow free press — still finds ways to squash local journalists.
The Chinese encourage self censorship and many Hong Kong journalists follow their wishes because they don’t want to anger Beijing and lose the business ties they need to succeed or for fear of being fired.