Voice of Hong Kong http://www.vohk.hk One Hong Kong, Many Voices Sun, 18 Jul 2021 08:23:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.24 Freedom in tatters http://www.vohk.hk/2021/07/18/freedom-in-tatters/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/07/18/freedom-in-tatters/#respond Sun, 18 Jul 2021 08:22:57 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2250
HKJA2921CoverBy Chris Yeung — Founded in 1968, Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has published an annual report on freedom of expression and freedom of the...
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By Chris Yeung —

Founded in 1968, Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) has published an annual report on freedom of expression and freedom of the press since 1994. Through the documentation and analysis of the relevant media-related events in the previous year, we strive to take a penetrating look at Hong Kong’s media ecology and changes in the city’s room for freedom, social and political environment. We express our views on press freedom and media development – their present and future. The first section of previous reports had been “Introduction and Recommendation.” We renamed it “Our View” this year.

One day before the writing of “Our View” on May 15, three news stories saw the media themselves were in the news. It is in itself a manifestation of the scene of broken freedom in Hong Kong in the wake of the promulgation of the National Security Law (NSL). With the law in place, “red lines” are everywhere and fear prevails. The media environment has rapidly deteriorated. Freedom in Tatters, the title of this year’s report, is vividly shown on the front and back pages through the work of Zuni, a renowned cartoonist.

Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai was charged with the offences under the NSL last year. Although he remains innocent for those charges, he was convicted of other crimes and is serving a jail sentence. On May 14, the Government invoked the NSL to freeze his assets, including all shares in Next Digital and assets under his three companies in local banks. The group’s Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung stressed that the operation and finance of the company was unaffected. But the unprecedented move has dealt a big psychological blow to their staff and the whole media sector.

On June 17, five top executives of Next Digital were arrested for allegedly breaching the national security law. More than 500 police and national security officers conducted a raid at the newsroom of Apple Daily. They took away more than 40 computers from reporters, which contained journalist materials. Secretary for Security John Lee ordered the company’s bank accounts be frozen. On June 17, the newspaper’s publisher Cheung Kim-hung and Chief Editor Law Wai-kong were formally charged with colluding with foreign forces under the national security law. With their bank accounts frozen, the company ran into difficulty in their operation. At a meeting on June 21, the group’s board of directors set June 26 as the last day of their operation if a request for the frozen assets be released is rejected. Staff could tender their resignation with immediate effect. On June 23, Police arrested a man, surnamed Yeung, an editorial writer at the newspaper who goes by the pseudonym “Li Ping”. He was also alleged of colluding with foreign forces. Following an emergency meeting of the board, the management of the newspaper decided to stop operation by midnight. The newspaper said in a farewell note to Hong Kong people in its final edition the decision was made after considering staff safety and manpower. HKJA and seven media unions and groups said in a joint statement Hong Kong lost a media organisation, who has the courage to speak up, because of suppression by the regime. More than one million copies of its final edition were printed.

Apple Daily says goodbye to readers.

Apple Daily says goodbye to readers.

In the wake of the anti-extradition bill protest, the Chinese National People’s Congress imposed the NSL in Hong Kong. Guided by the principle of rule by law in the mainland, a lot of provisions and details of implementation under the law are not in line with the common law system. The power of the judiciary in exercising checks and balances over the power of the national security and prosecution authorities in accordance with the Basic Law, the Bill of Rights and common law system has been neutered. Furthermore,  judicial independence is facing unprecedented political pressure from the official media and pro-Beijing forces. Pressure grew for the courts to “coordinate” with the executive authorities. In March, the NPC approved a resolution on the “improvement” of the election systems in Hong Kong. Under the new system, the political space for the democrats in the legislature in future will be significantly narrowed. The pro-establishment camp will enjoy an overwhelming dominance in the legislature. The strength of the democrats, who won the majority of votes in the 2019 District Council elections, will be further weakened. They will find it more difficult to counter the Government and the pro-establishment camp.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has said on a number of occasions that the wrongs of the media should be corrected. The media system, she said, should be “improved.” The Government will study how to handle “fake news.” Police Commissioner Chris Tang has said legislating on “fake news” is a good thing. Both the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong and the Federation of Trade Unions led the campaign for a law on fake news. Given the current legislature is due to finish its extended term later this year, it is unlikely the Government will formally put the issue on the agenda. But whoever becomes the next chief executive looks certain to adopt a list of measures to rein in the media. They include a fake news law, restrictions on access to companies’ information in a government registry and other public data. With no representatives in the future legislature and the voices of the democrats severely suppressed in the society, the dissenting voices in society will fade. The environment for press freedom will further get worse.

Paving the way for regulating the media, Article 9 of the NSL says the Government “shall take necessary measures to strengthen public communication, guidance, supervision and regulation over matters concerning national security, including those relating to schools, universities, social organisations, the media, and the internet.”

HKJA has issued a statement raising fears that media organisations will face more curbs. Moves to strengthen supervision and regulation of the internet will adversely affect the collection of information by journalists. 

Article 43 says, when handling cases concerning offence endangering national security, Police’s national security department may require a person, who is suspected, on reasonable grounds, of having in possession information or material relevant to investigation, to answer questions and furnish such information or produce such material. We worry news materials will no longer be protected as they have been under the existing laws. Mrs Lam’s remarks on media regulation and fake news are part of the moves to implement the NSL. The process of rectification of the media has already begun.

Although the process is still at its early stage, some media outlets have already been targeted by the authorities and pro-establishment forces in the past 12 months. Due to the Jimmy Lai and the Apple Daily factors, Next Digital has emerged as the Number One enemy of the authorities. This is not surprising.

Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is a public service broadcast government department. Some programmes such as the TV satire Headliner has been a long-time target of attack by pro-Beijing figures. But taken as a whole, RTHK programmes won fame for their high-quality production. They received more praises than curses from the populace. Even before the 1997 handover, pro-Beijing figures had already voiced out their discontent with RTHK, saying the broadcaster was impartial. Though confronted with continued pressure, RTHK has largely been able to maintain editorial autonomy and play the role of “people’s broadcasters.”

The past year saw RTHK being devastated by a “supertyphoon”. As this report went to the press, the storm is not yet over. RTHK has received a huge number of complaints lodged to the Communications Authority against some of their episodes relating to the 2019 social movement. They include an episode of satire programme Headliner, which has allegedly denigrated the Police. An episode of a commentary programme, Pentaprism II, which featured remarks by a Polytechnic University academic on the Police-protester clash at the university in 2019. The Authority found complaints against the two programmes established. The RTHK-bashing campaign saw a familiar pattern starting with criticism by pro-Beijing media, political parties and patriotic organisations, followed by the official investigation by the Authority and relevant ruling. Although public views of some programmes being complained about are divided, the Government has endorsed all rulings made by the Authority and adopted follow-up actions.

Political satire programme, Headliner, vanished.

Political satire programme, Headliner, vanished.

In the name of reviewing the governance and management of RTHK, Mrs Lam started paving the way for a major surgery of the broadcaster by setting up a team led by a former senior government official. The goal is to get rid of politically sensitive, “incorrect” content from their programmes and “disobedient” editorial staff. The review report was published at the end of February. On the same day, the Government announced the early departure of Leung Ka-wing from the post of Director of Broadcasting. Leung was replaced by Patrick Li Pak-chuen, a senior administrative officer. As soon as Li took office in March, he decided to pull out some programmes, reshuffle production teams, set up an editorial board and micro-inspect programme content. The management decided not to renew the contract of Nabela Qoser, who has been vehemently attacked by the pro-Beijing circle for her reporting style. 

While diluting political content, the new management has increased government propaganda. One of the major initiatives is a series of interviews hosted by Mrs Lam beginning from the end of April about the new election system. The series has a total of 40 episodes, with two each broadcast four times respectively each day. Media reports said the number of viewership of Mrs Lam’s shows hit a low point. Referring to the low rating, prominent pro-establishment columnist Chris Wat Wing-yin has ridiculed RTHK for succeeding in achieving “zero” target in audienceship – thanks to Mrs Lam. 

Manned by AOs, the new management team has been taking orders from the Chief Executive and the relevant policy bureau for the purpose of gaining full control of the broadcaster. Their moves to axe programmes and replace an existing public affairs programme team with an outside content provider through outsourcing is an insult to their existing outstanding team. Some felt disappointed and decided to quit. Bad money drives out good. The Government has acted contrary to common sense, leading RTHK towards the path of demise. It is utterly incomprehensible.

The political shock Next Digital and RTHK faced in the past year is partly due to their own historical background. But more important, their plight reflects the big picture of increased curbs on the media in times of big change in Hong Kong. With the city ushering a new era of “patriots ruling Hong Kong” and Beijing asserting full jurisdictions, a national security law and a set of new election systems are now in place. Under the new governance mode, the media that Beijing and the pro-establishment camp reckoned as “too free” needed to be regulated through an overhaul of the media system. Next Digital and RTHK are the first blood. The crackdown and regulating of other media outlets by the authorities through various means have begun. It will become more apparent.

HKJA has also been a target of bad publicity in the past two years. We have been accused of issuing press cards excessively; we have been branded as a political organisation. There were calls for a ban on HKJA made by anonymous netizens on social media and some pro-Beijing newspaper columns. Those accusations lack evidence. But we observed a marked change of attitude of the Government towards us from the way they handled the Police’s amendment of the definition of “media representatives” in the Police General Orders and the issue of media access to public data. We have made requests to meet with the relevant department and bureaus to express our concern. With the exception of the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau, officials turned a deaf ear to our demand for a meeting. We reiterated our wish to meet with officials to exchange ideas, resolve differences and find solutions.

In our 2020 annual report, we wrote: “We are convinced freedom is inseparable from Hong Kong’s success in the past. It is only with free speech, free press and free flow of information that we have a robust economy, unlimited creativity, advanced innovation and technology and a lively cultural life. We hope the Government will adopt concrete actions to rebuild a free environment for the city to shine again.”

We repeated what we said last year. This is because freedom is in tatters. Hong Kong people are not free from fear. Media faces unprecedented shock. The room for press freedom is shrinking. The risk journalists facing amid the NSL and the imminent fake news legislation is growing. Self-censorship, both direct or indirect, looks certain to increase. There will be fewer truth, true words the public can get from the media.

We hope freedom and diversity will be back again. We hope those with power will stop suppressing people. We hope the Government and people will join hands to kick out fear. 

Below are what we urge.

  1. The Chinese National People’s Congress should review the implementation of the NSL taking into account the change of circumstances and the anxieties of Hong Kong people. The NPC should study amendments and supplementary provisions, in particular making public interest as a defence for journalists. That will safeguard press freedom.
  2. The Government should allow media access to public data as they had been before. Doing so will help journalists get information for reporting activities and thus be able to play their role of monitoring in society.
  3. The Government should shelve studies on legislation on misinformation. To beat misinformation, the Government should do so by other means including education and publicity, which could help enhance public understanding about misinformation for them to exercise self-monitoring.
  4. Police should revoke the amendment of the definition of “media representatives” in the Police General Orders and genuinely facilitate the reporting of journalists.
  5. The Government should speed up the enactment of an archives law and a freedom of information law that are effective in enhancing public access to information and archives.
  6. The Government should stop putting pressure on RTHK and respect its editorial autonomy.

This is the full text of the section, Our View, in the 2021 Annual Report published by the Hong Kong Journalists Association. Chris Yeung is the annual report’s Chief Editor and Chairman of HKJA (2017-2021).

 

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A deplorable Hong Kong mars CCP’s 100th birthday http://www.vohk.hk/2021/06/19/a-deplorable-hong-kong-mars-ccps-100th-birthday/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/06/19/a-deplorable-hong-kong-mars-ccps-100th-birthday/#respond Sat, 19 Jun 2021 18:45:38 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2247
PICFlagsBy Chris Yeung — History is full of coincidence and irony. The Chinese Communist Party is due to celebrate its 100th birthday on July 1,...
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By Chris Yeung —

History is full of coincidence and irony. The Chinese Communist Party is due to celebrate its 100th birthday on July 1, which also marks the 24th anniversary of China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong. 

Putting an end to the humiliating British colonial rule and ushering a new era of Hong Kong under the untried experiment of “one country, two systems” 24 years ago, the ruling party was beamed with confidence that Hong Kong would only get better under Chinese rule.

In a calligraphy he penned as a gift to Hong Kong people during his visit, the then party general secretary Jiang Zemin wrote, “Hong Kong will be better tomorrow.”

With the two anniversaries half a month to go, the shape and state of the Hong Kong SAR under “one country, two systems” have little worth celebrating.

The ruling party has not just failed to build a better Hong Kong as they had promised, but to maintain stability and prosperity as they had stated as one of the all-important principles of the CCP’s Hong Kong policy.

Facts speak louder than words. Hong Kong has been on a slippery path since 1997 at all fronts. Its economic competitiveness fell. Poor leadership and chronic governance problems have dragged the Government’s own feet in formulating policies to cope with the rapid changes facing the city.

Worse, they have aggravated socio-political conflicts, worsened divisiveness and poisoned the atmosphere of the society. Opinion surveys show public perception towards the Chinese government and the ruling CCP has persistently grown negative since the late 2000s.

Pro-Beijing figures have lamented that the hearts of Hong Kong have not yet returned to the motherland. There are more signs showing the hearts and minds of Hong Kong Chinese in particular the young generation, are moving further away from the central authorities and the SAR government. 

Starting last year, a new wave of migration of the city’s educated, middle-income class will reach a high point in the next two months as parents with children rush to land on foreign soil before the new school year begins.

Being a symbol of the principle of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” under the “one country, two systems” policy, the Chief Executive is accountable to both the central government and the people of Hong Kong.

That the popularity of the current head, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has plummeted to a deplorable low point cannot possibly be something both Beijing and Hong Kong can take pride of as an example of the success of “one country, two systems.”

Economic stagnation and political gridlock aside, the erosion of freedom and the rise of an suffocating atmosphere have made the city hardly recognisable in many aspects.

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Cases are aplenty that hit headlines on a daily basis.

Last week, the Government suddenly gazetted amendments to film censorship rules with immediate effect, adding national security as a factor in the vetting of films, including documentaries, for public screening. The new rule has effectively given green light to political censorship of films.

The air of freedom is wearing thin with the line between speech and act increasingly blurred. Expression of views on issues hinged upon national security could easily be deemed as acts vulnerable to be prosecuted under the national security law.

Freedom and the freewheeling lifestyle are the integral part of Hong Kong’s capitalist system to be preserved under the “one country, two systems” framework.

They are withering in the new era, which has been coined by pro-Beijing figures as handover 2.0, or the second handover of Hong Kong.

The notion of “one country, two systems” has become increasingly unreal and irrelevant.

Enter “One country, one system.” Hong Kong people have already been given plenty of previews of what it is like.

On Saturday, Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong, Luo Huining, for the first time hailed the Communist Party as the architect, leader and defender of the “one country, two systems” policy. Yes and no.

Yes, the CCP led by late patriarch Deng Xiaoping mooted the idea of “one country, two systems” and turned it into a law, known as the Basic Law.

No, the ruling party has failed to uphold the system. 1997 marks the beginning of the end of the system with the CCP redefining important notions such as high degree of autonomy, “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong,” freedom and judicial independence.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung heaped praises on the CCP, mimicking the communist leaders’ slogan, “Without the Chinese Communist Party, there’s no China today.” He said the handover of Hong Kong is an important part of the CCP’s 100-year “great achievements.” Yes and no.

Yes, the CCP took Hong Kong back from the hands of the colonial ruler. No, the handover is hardly a success in making Hong Kong a better place. 

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on June 16.

 

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Justice comes late to The Pulse’s WHO interview http://www.vohk.hk/2021/06/12/justice-comes-late-to-the-pulses-who-interview/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/06/12/justice-comes-late-to-the-pulses-who-interview/#respond Sat, 12 Jun 2021 15:15:11 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2240
世衛-RTHK-艾沃德Bruce Aylward-20200330172029_62bc_largeBy Chris Yeung — It is a finding being too little too late for the much-troubled editorial team of RTHK’s programme, The Pulse, and the...
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By Chris Yeung —

It is a finding being too little too late for the much-troubled editorial team of RTHK’s programme, The Pulse, and the broadcaster as a whole.

More than 15 months after a programme that carried an interview with a World Health Organisation official about Taiwan’s participation was broadcast, the Communications Authority has ruled complaints against the programme lack sufficient evidence. No further action, it said, will be taken against the public broadcaster.

The damage is done, however. Yvonne Tong, a reporter who conducted the interview with a WHO official carried in the programme had earlier resigned. She faced an avalanche of criticism and smearing in the pro-Beijing media after the programme was put on air.

Worse, the controversy over the episode has caused a chilling effect on RTHK and other media outlets, worsening the problem of self-censorship. Taiwan’s membership at WHO and the like have become a “red-line” topic.

At the centre of the row was an episode aired in March last year. Tong interviewed Bruce Aylward, the Assistant Director General of the WHO. During the interview conducted via Skype, Tong asked whether WHO would reconsider Taiwan’s membership.

Tong, the programme and RTHK were heavily criticised by the pro-Beijing media and political circle.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau, whose portfolio includes RTHK, said the “expression” in the interview with an WHO official violated the “one China” principle and the RTHK Charter. Yau has said the then Director of Broadcasting, Leung Ka-wing, should be held responsible for that.

The Authority has received more than 210 complaints.

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In a statement issued on Monday, the Authority said they received a host of complaints against the episode, including bias in its presentation of remarks by  WHO’s secretary-general, distortion of Aylward’s remarks and being unfair to him. Tong’s question to Aylward about Taiwan’s WHO membership was criticised as unfair, inappropriate and being “subversive”.

The Authority said in a report the interview with Mr Aylward had not been distorted, nor there was evidence that shows he had been unfairly treated.

The Authority revealed that RTHK has admitted in its latest submission the form of expression and way of handling the section regarding WHO membership may have “made people feel the ‘one China’ principle has been wrongly understood and even violated.”  The Authority added their finding has not been affected as those matters are not within their scope of jurisdictions.

Given the fact that the Authority has found nothing wrong with the programme, the RTHK management’s admission of lack of clarity in their report is ridiculous and disingenuous.

One does not need to be a professional journalist to be able to come to a clear view that a question about whether WHO should reconsider Taiwan’s membership is a fair question.

Mr Aylward has a list of possible answers. Yes. No. Maybe. No comment. Or even “that’s a wrong question.”

That Edward Yau drew a conclusion before the government-appointed regulatory body conducts its investigation shows clearly political correctness has superseded objective analysis in a case that involves the Taiwan issue.

Underlying Yau’s response is that even a straightforward question about Taiwan’s membership in WHO should have never been asked in the first place because Taiwan is not a sovereign nation and, therefore, not eligible to become a WHO. To him and the patriots, even asking such a question is not in line with the “one-China” principle.

The Authority’s conclusion is a slap on the face of Edward Yau for his dismal failure to take an objective look at the attacks on The Pulse programme.

And in making a submission at the late stage of the Authority’s investigation, the RTHK management appears to have tried to save face for Yau, their boss, by admitting what it called their own inadequacies in explaining the issue clearly.

Though belated, the Authority’s ruling has done justice to The Pulse team. But there is little to cheer about.

Looking back, the controversy over the programme has become the curtain-raiser of a RTHK-bashing campaign mounted by the pro-Beijing camp with the helping hands of government officials.

Following the shakeup of RTHK’s top management, the room for editorial freedom and independent journalism is further shrinking. The verdict of the Authority on the complaints against The Pulse won’t help reverse the decline of RTHK.

This article was published on Apple Daily’s English website on June 9.

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A sad story of the vanishing June 4 candlelights in Hong Kong http://www.vohk.hk/2021/06/06/a-sad-story-of-the-vanishing-june-4-candlelights-in-hong-kong/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/06/06/a-sad-story-of-the-vanishing-june-4-candlelights-in-hong-kong/#respond Sun, 06 Jun 2021 06:36:04 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2235
六四集會-六四32-20210604230056_bee7_largeBy Chris Yeung — Co-leading a campaign to relaunch Hong Kong in the wake of the 2019 political turmoil, former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has...
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By Chris Yeung —

Co-leading a campaign to relaunch Hong Kong in the wake of the 2019 political turmoil, former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has underlined the importance of Hong Kong in helping bridge the divide between China and the world.

That he spoke of the unique role of Hong Kong on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the June 4 crackdown, which will, for the second time in a row since last year, see the annual candlelight vigil being banned, could not be more ironical.

This is simply because the annual commemoration at Victoria Park and the images of a sea of candlelights had provided a powerful example of how the policy of “one country, two systems” works. Putting aside Taiwan, Hong Kong was the only place on Chinese soil where commemorative activities of the June 4 killings were allowed. That is now history.

Citing the Covid-19 epidemic, Police rejected the application of a commemoration by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China at Victoria Park on June 4 last year.

Dozens of Alliance leaders and pro-democracy activists, including Next Media Group founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and young leader Joshua Wong, joined thousands of citizens at the annual commemoration. Police stood by outside the park and made no attempt to stop people from entering the park, nor making arrests after the event finished.

Police’s inaction was later proved to be merely tactics. The activists were later charged with participating in unlawful assemblies. They were convicted and were given jail sentences in terms of months.

Coming weeks before this year’s June 4, the harsher-than-expected sentencing has sent more chilling wind across the city. The Alliance has announced they would not hold any commemorative activities under their name on June 4.

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Almost 32 years after the June 4 crackdown and 24 years after the 1997 handover, June 4 commemoration has increasingly become a political taboo and “red-line” dangerous topic..

Following the promulgation of the national security law for Hong Kong in July last year, the Hong Kong government could no longer be able to play around the grey area in anti-subversion legislation to turn the June 4 commemoration into an opportunity of public relations promotion of the city.

Although it is crystal clear that the Alliance has posed no substantive threat whatsoever to national security, its mere existence has provided an easy target of attack by the hardliners in the pro-Beijing camp after a law on national security is in place.

At the brunt of the attack against the Alliance is one of their five demands, namely the end of one-party dictatorship.

Hardline pro-Beijing figures maintained the advocacy of an end of one-party dictatorship is a violation of the Chinese Constitution following an amendment in 2018, which has specifically indicated the ruling of the Chinese Communist Party is part of the basic systems in the mainland. Any demand for a change of the political system therefore goes against the Chinese Constitution and may violate the national security law.

It is still unclear whether the Government will act to de-register the Alliance and, if so, on what legal grounds.

Any move to ban an organisation because of a slogan that is deemed as subversive looks certain to face challenge in courts. It will also be bad publicity for Hong Kong.

Speaking at a symposium on Monday, Leung gave a speech on the mission and role of Hong Kong in China’s image-building. He lamented China faced groundless allegations of “suppression of democracy, human rights and freedom.”

Hong Kong, he reckons, has a unique role and mission in restoring the balance of the “China

issue” in the international community by giving the Hong Kong view to international media and audiences under the “one country, two systems” policy.

What Leung said had been the original intent of “one country, two systems” political framework and the decision of allowing the annual June 4 commemoration in the city.

Now that Hong Kong is itself a victim of human rights violations by the communist authorities, it is unrealistic and naive to expect it can play a role in telling the China story to the world.

With the candlelights at Victoria Park vanishing on June 4 evenings,  Hong Kong only has a sad story of “one country, one system” to tell.

This article was published on the Apple Daily website on June 2.

 

 

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With democrats out, CY Leung now Lam’s opposition http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/29/with-democrats-out-cy-leung-now-lams-opposition/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/29/with-democrats-out-cy-leung-now-lams-opposition/#respond Sat, 29 May 2021 16:39:03 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2229
回港易-20210525152933_ee70_largeBy Chris Yeung — With the democrats, labelled as the opposition, crushed, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is facing a more formidable opponent in...
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By Chris Yeung —

With the democrats, labelled as the opposition, crushed, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is facing a more formidable opponent in some important aspects. It may sound like gross exaggeration. But former chief executive Leung Chun-ying has emerged as the most powerful adversary against Mrs Lam recently. And he appears to be eager to be seen as such.

Eyebrows were raised on Saturday night when Leung challenged a government decision to add Guangdong onto a list of medium-risk areas for Covid-19 following a recent outbreak of the virus in the Liwan district in Guangzhou.

That could mean Hongkongers would no longer be allowed to cross the land border and enter the city through the quarantine-free “Return2HK” programme.

Centre for Health Protection officials told a regular Covid-19 press briefing in the afternoon Guangdong would be added to the list, joining Anhui and Liaoning provinces, which recorded a similar outbreak earlier.

The decision drew flak from Leung, who wrote a post on his Facebook account in the evening, questioning why declaring the whole province a medium-risk area, but not just the area where the infected patient lived.

“Guangzhou City has an area of 7,434 square kilometres, and the area of the rest of the Guangdong Province is 23 times larger than Guangzhou City,” wrote Leung. “Guangzhou has a case, and the whole province has to stop Return2hk – this is one thing that [I] don’t understand.” He said 

“What happened?” he asked at the end of his post.

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The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau reacted swiftly with a late evening statement, saying only the building where the Liwan case happened would be ranked medium-risk. There was no plan to suspend Return2HK.

Both civil service minister Patrick Nip and health officials played down the controversy, attributing it to “misunderstanding” and “miscommunication”. No officials have categorically said the health officials’ declaration of Guangdong as a medium-risk area was a wrong call.

This is apparently because health officials had handled the Guangdong case in line with their own criteria when applied to the Anhui and Liaoning cases. There is no clear guideline saying Guangdong should be dealt with differently when a case breaks out.

What if the Liwan infected patient has already spread the virus. The public health risk of the case is difficult to assess. The health officials cannot be faulted for preferring to err on the side of caution.

That Leung, who is a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, has decided to blow up the issue by openly challenging the decision has turned it into a highly political power play.

Leung’s challenge has practically given no room for manoeuvring by the Lam administration.

Faced with the high political stake of a suspension of Return2Hong Kong, the Government has no alternative but to make a U-turn. Leung was quick to praise the government for doing the right thing as if he has succeeded in righting the wrong. To Lam, the policy reversal is in itself an admission of mistake in decision-making.

Anonymous pro-establishment figures could not wait to define it as a failure of bureaucrats to take a broader perspective when it comes to matters relating to the mainland.

One reportedly said easing travel restrictions across the border would be a pipe dream if the Government suspended Return2HongKong in Guangdong just because of one confirmed case in a district.

Whether the health officials’ decision is right or wrong from the public health perspective is no longer important. To Leung and the pro-Beijing circle, the verdict is given. It is a politically incorrect decision not conducive to forging closer integration with the mainland.

Realistically, Lam will not be able to come clean from the policy aboutturn. 

It cannot be more coincidental that Leung gave comment on the credentials of the next chief executive at a radio programme on Saturday. He said not every patriot can do the job of chief executive well, adding knowing what happened in Hong Kong in the past few years is vitally important in electing a chief executive who would be able to seize the opportunity to run Hong Kong well.

Lam, who is no doubt eyeing another term, may now miss the democrats, who are the lesser-evil and a less-difficult opponent when compared to her former boss.

This article was first published on Apple Daily’s website on May 26.

 

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Unions next in line of political purge http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/23/unions-next-in-line-of-political-purge/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/23/unions-next-in-line-of-political-purge/#respond Sun, 23 May 2021 01:55:16 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2223
186226474_5658458574194369_993763648183168525_nBy Chris Yeung — Dr Law Chi-kwong, formerly a Democrat, an academic and now labour and welfare minister, seems to be one of the least...
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By Chris Yeung —

Dr Law Chi-kwong, formerly a Democrat, an academic and now labour and welfare minister, seems to be one of the least unlikely knife-waving choppers in the Government posing deadly threats to political dissent.

That Law gave warning to unionists of de-registration if they are found to have violated the trade union law and the national security law on Sunday speaks a lot of the extremity of the authoritarian rule in Hong Kong after the harsh law took effect.

The Secretary for Labour and Welfare was giving justifications for the creation of a new post at the Labour Department on a blog post published Sunday. The new position of chief labour officer will be given the task of managing the city’s trade unions, including their compliance with the national security law.

Law explained trade unions fall under the category of “community organisations” in Article 9 and 10 of the national security law. They say the government should reinforce the education and monitoring and regulation of these organisations on matters of national security.

The Labour Department will educate and give guidance to trade union committee members and their staff “to promote their knowledge of national security and relevant regulations,” he wrote.

The department will also “monitor and manage” unions in accordance with the Trade Unions Ordinance. They may face de-registration if they are found to be in violation.

Law said the department saw a “tsunami-style” increase in union registration applications, with 4,289 new applications during 2020 in the wake of the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests, which had evolved into a social movement.

It was part of the democrats’ strategy of striving to win more seats in the 2020 Legislative Council election, which was never held. The pr-democracy force had hoped a big rise in the number of pro-democracy unions could upset the dominance of the leftwing Federation of Trade Unions in Legco’s labour financial constituency election.

The democrats’ election game plan was derailed after Beijing dictated an overhaul of the election systems, installing more gates barring the pro-democracy camp from getting a meaningful number of seats in the legislature.

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Although the newly-set up unions no longer pose any threat to the pro-establishment force in and outside the Legislative Council, Beijing decided not to take any risk. A new round of political suppression on independent trade unions has begun.

Last month, the Liaison Office-backed Ta Kung Pao accused the Confederation of Trade Unions of violating the national security law when it held showings of three documentaries relating to the 2019 protests last month. The three are Inside the Red Brick Wall, Eternal Springs in the Mountains and Taking back the Legislative Council.

Pro-Beijing politicians intensified the attack, calling on the Government to de-register the CTU. They claimed the union has breached the labour union law by engaging in “political activities”, referring to the showing of the 2019 protest-related documentaries.

It is understood that the union had suspended the documentary shows. This is despite the fact that the documentaries are not banned from local cinemas.

Ronny Tong, Executive Councillor and barrister, said unions and other community groups would have nothing to fear if they behaved themselves properly. He said unions are in general supposed to handle matters relating to the interests of workers and employers and the conflicts between them. Unions may have breached the law if they fund election activities from their own funds.

Tong’s interpretation of the scope of activities allowed for under the Trade Unions Ordinance is a subject of debate.

But threats of de-registration issued by the pro-Beijing camp will create a chilling effect on unions, who will try to tread more carefully to avoid crossing the political “red line”.

First started with the pan-democrats last year, the political crackdown has gradually broadened to the education and media sectors, now followed by unions.

With one sector being weakened after another, the strength of the civil society has and will be significantly reduced.

Welcome to the new era “patriots governing Hong Kong!”

This article was first published on Apple Daily on May 19.

 

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An election overkill kills democrats’ desire for seats http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/16/an-election-overkill-kills-democrats-desire-for-seats/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/16/an-election-overkill-kills-democrats-desire-for-seats/#respond Sun, 16 May 2021 03:36:55 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2218
Democrats vow to come back to the legislature after being ousted from the pre-1997 Legco.By Chris Yeung — Days before China’s top legislature, or National People’s Congress, was scheduled to rubber-stamp a set of amendments to Hong Kong’s electoral...
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Democrats vow to come back to the legislature after being ousted from the pre-1997 Legco.

By Chris Yeung —

Days before China’s top legislature, or National People’s Congress, was scheduled to rubber-stamp a set of amendments to Hong Kong’s electoral system in March, a key local adviser to the communist authorities caused a stir when he warned of an overkill of the overhaul.

Shiu Sin-por, former head of the now-disbanded Central Policy Unit under the Leung Chun-ying administration, spoke at a closed door session chaired by Xia Baolong, Beijing’s official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, in Shenzhen.

He said the pro-democracy force has already become crippled after the national security law took effect in July last year, followed by a series of “actions,” with democrats being jailed, having fled and quit politics.

Democrats, Shiu has reckoned, could no longer pose strong resistance against the authorities. He urged the central authorities not to “overkill” when revamping the electoral systems.

Dubbed as an ultra-leftist,  Shiu’s frank note on the fragility of the democrats has failed to prompt the authorities to see the merits of proportionality and restraint in dealing with the political dissent. Details of the electoral overhaul that came to light thereafter show Beijing has done the opposite.

If anything, the electoral revamp has emerged as an ugly piece of political manipulation dressed up as an “improvement” aimed to bar anyone whom Beijing does not like to stand for election.

It has already scored early success in further cooling the already-dampened enthusiasm of the democrats.

There are growing signs of a likely de facto boycott of the pro-democracy camp in fielding candidates to contest the next Legislative Council election scheduled for December.

On the face of it, the Democratic Party, which is the major force in the pro-democracy camp, is still undecided until after the Election Committee subsector election is held in September.

With views about whether or not they should run for election sharply divided at a meeting early last month, the Democrats decided to consult their members and supporters more thoroughly.

That could not stop former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing from giving early calls for members not to run. She said members should not seek nominations from the Election Committee for their candidacy at a price of their dignity.

Though described by another former party chief Lee Wing-tat as “just one member’s views,” Lau’s no-nonsense plea has resonated with a good audience in the pro-democracy camp.

The voice of “leavers” has become more dominant. Those of the “stayers” have been noticeably weak. Taken together, they have given a clear picture of the views of the pro-democracy supporters. 

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To put it mildly, the majority of democrats are not keen to see their representatives joining the fray. Doing so could give legitimacy to an unjust and undemocratic game. They want citizens to shun the polls as a vote of protest – and defiance.

The inclination of the democrats not to contest the Legco election has also been manifested in remarks made by Fung Wai-wah, president of the Professional Teachers Union on Sunday. 

Fung said it is extremely unlikely that they will contest the Election Committee election. The possibility of them bidding for the Legco education functional constituency seat, he said, is also remote.

The union, which is the largest teachers’ union, is one of the major bodies in the pro-democracy camp. Their stance on election is certain to have an important impact on the view of the whole pro-democracy camp.

Amidst more signs of the democrats shunning the polls, Beijing seems to have understood better what Shiu was alluding to when he warned of an overkill of the electoral overhaul.

A former Democrat legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said in an interview at the weekend he received a clear message from the central authorities through middle men Beijing hoped that the Democrats would run for the Legco polls. Li said Beijing has also given their views on who among the Democrats would be acceptable to Beijing.

There is no reason to question the credibility of Li’s remarks. That Beijing is desperately keen to relay through Li a message to the Democrats for them not to boycott the election shows their belated awareness of the danger of an overkill.

Under the election overhaul, there is no doubt the next Legco will be under the control of patriots in accordance with its original design. Still, Beijing wants a symbolic but unharmful presence of the dissenting voices in the legislature to showcase a democratic model with Hong Kong characteristics. 

Beijing should now come to realise they just cannot have the best of both worlds, winning an unreal election while deceiving everyone it is a real contest.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on May 12.

 

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Calls for a free, independent media fallen on deaf ears http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/09/calls-for-a-free-independent-media-fallen-on-deaf-ears/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/09/calls-for-a-free-independent-media-fallen-on-deaf-ears/#respond Sun, 09 May 2021 07:21:18 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2212
記者-攝影記者-新聞自由-20210422224347_51cc_largeBy Chris Yeung — “If the media are silenced and journalists are muzzled, a key pillar of a functioning democracy is crushed. It means that...
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By Chris Yeung —

If the media are silenced and journalists are muzzled, a key pillar of a functioning democracy is crushed. It means that an institution that is vital to a free society, which seeks to ensure accountability, to highlight injustices, to inform the public about matters in their interest, and to serve as a conduit between the people and their representatives, is neutralised. The loss of a free, independent media is essentially the loss of democracy.”

These are remarks made by former UK Chief Justice Lord Neuberger, chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, barrister and deputy of the panel Amal Clooney, members Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, and barrister Can Yeginsu to mark the annual World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The importance of a free, independent media could not be emphasised more. That it is rapidly crumbling in Hong Kong, once known for its unfettered freedoms and a vibrant press, could not more saddening.

Arguably, the demise of a free, independent media in Hong Kong, where its partial-democracy is moving backwards towards autocracy, is even more damaging. It will further weaken official accountability and the media’s power to uncover injustice and people’s right to know.

Worse, it has come at a time when strengths of checks and balances by other institutions including the legislature, the judiciary and civil society are being eroded by an increasingly authoritarian executive branch.

The alarming trend of the Government, with the backing of the Chinese Central Government, striving to undermine the power of the media in monitoring the power-that-be began following the outbreak of the anti-extradition bill protest in 2019.

The protest, soon morphed into a social movement, saw systematic moves by the Police to block journalists from reporting the truth on the spot.

With the wave of protest ebbed largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the Government moved to neuter the power of the media in conducting search of public data in uncovering the truth. 

Various departments had either shut the door or imposed restrictions on those searches by journalists on matters including vehicle ownership, properties and land transactions and company directorship.

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For the first time, a RTHK programme producer Bao Choy was charged and later convicted of false statements in her application for a search of vehicle registration for a story about the Yuen Long attack on civilians on July 21, 2019.

In justifying the Government’s new curbs on journalists’ access to public data, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has argued that journalists have no special privileges, adding the right to privacy must be protected and doxxing be stopped.

No one is above the law. That is indisputable. The media is no exception. But under the Common Law system, the media are given the right to defend themselves under such laws as libel and privacy on grounds of public interest if their reports are deemed a breach of those laws.

The fact the media are treated differently is simply because the media plays a role of watchdog in the society. By monitoring the power and the rich, the media helps ensure a fair and clean society. For them to play their role, the right to have access to such data as vehicle registration, property transactions and company directorship is important.

That Mrs Lam has sought to stress the media does not enjoy the right to have access to those data, like other ordinary citizens, shows an ignorance of the role of the media as the fourth power – deliberately.

The intensified curbs on media’s access to records seem to be part of the move by the Government to regulate the media systematically. Mrs Lam has repeatedly said in various interviews with mainland media that the Government would “improve” the media system, a synonym of rectification in the communist dictionary.

A key component of the new media system looks certain to feature a law on fake news, which could be invoked to take the Apple Daily to court over cases like publishing a picture of children playing toy gun on national security education day side by side with the image of police brutality at a MTR station.

In their World Freedom Day remarks, Lord Neuberger wrote of the importance of independent judges and media. “Together, they hold power to account, enforce the rights of individuals and shed light on matters of public interest – and they also monitor each other.”

There are no lack of such calls for upholding judicial and media independence in Hong Kong. But like some other places in the world, they have fallen on deaf ears.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on May 5.

 

 

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Beijing intensifies attack on Paul Harris – and the Bar http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/02/beijing-intensifies-attack-on-paul-harris-and-the-bar/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/02/beijing-intensifies-attack-on-paul-harris-and-the-bar/#respond Sun, 02 May 2021 02:40:03 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2207
Bar chairman Paul Harris, SC, is at the brunt of attack by Beijing and  local loyalists.By Chris Yeung — Stopped short of calling on the Bar Association to axe its chairman, China’s top office in Hong Kong has warned the...
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Bar chairman Paul Harris, SC, is at the brunt of attack by Beijing and  local loyalists.

By Chris Yeung —

Stopped short of calling on the Bar Association to axe its chairman, China’s top office in Hong Kong has warned the legal body would “go on a road of no return” if Paul Harris, SC, stays on.

The Liaison Office did not elaborate. Pro-Beijing figures have called for a disbandment of the association, which is registered under the Societies Ordinance. They claimed the legal body has already become a “political group.”

The attacks on Mr Harris, launched almost as soon as he took up the hot seat vacated by Philip Dykes, SC, in January due to his strong human rights background and membership in a political party in the United Kingdom, were intensified on Sunday when the Liaison Office issued a strongly-worded statement.

This time, he was criticised for his comments on the sentencing of veteran democrats over two unauthorised assemblies on August 18 and 31 in 2019.

Victoria Park. August 18, 2019.

Victoria Park. August 18, 2019.

In an interview with Stand News, Mr Harris said the sentencing was too harsh. The crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, he pointed out, will lead to people turning to “very damaging channels, which can include violence.”

A spokesperson for the Liaison Office said Harris had “spread distorted opinion, blatantly supported those who violated law, excusing those using violence, smearing law enforcement, and putting pressure on the judiciary.”

“If the Hong Kong Bar Association continues to be manned by foreign politicians who have lost their professional conduct such as Paul Harris, it will only be caught in one’s own trap, and go on a road of no return.”

State-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao also cited on Monday pro-Beijing figures such as former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and lawmaker Priscilla Leung urging the Bar Association to cut ties with Harris.

The Bar chief is not the only one who expressed dismay at the sentencing and warned of its damaging implications on freedom of assembly, of expression and, even more damaging, social instability.

That his remarks, however, have enraged Beijing and the city’s loyalists is clearly because of his political background. His record in fighting for human rights and long-time connection with international bodies and political activities in the UK have juiced up the conspiracy theory of foreign forces meddling with Hong Kong affairs.

Harris has emerged as a perfect target of attack in the ongoing drive led by the central government and the Hong Kong government to uphold national security.

At a higher political plane, the “down with Harris” movement appears to have a bigger target, namely the Bar Association.

In an article published on April 1, the two pro-Beijing news media, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, quoted local political and legal figures as saying the Bar did not meet the criteria of “patriots administering Hong Kong.” Nor were they conducive to good governance, the rule of law and justice in Hong Kong, the report said, without elaborating.

“Residents have reason to ask whether the association’s frequent challenge against the authority of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and questioning its enactment of the national security law constitutes a breach of the national security law.”

The article questioned for whom the association served and whether it should continue to exist.

It sounds inconceivable that the association representing the city’s barristers will be outlawed. 

But the worsening of ties between the association and the central and Hong Kong governments in recent years is clear.

A member of the Carrie Lam team has also privately branded the association as a “political body,” which he said has made it difficult for them to engage with them. 

Against that background, it is not surprising that the Bar Association was left out in a briefing session held by government officials a few weeks ago for the legal profession about an overhaul of the election system.

Adding more uncertainty to the Bar was a report on Monday night about accusation by the Police against the Civil Human Rights Front of breaching the Societies Ordinance. 

In a Facebook post, the front said its convenor, Figo Chan, received a letter from the force, demanding information on its finances and activities, deepening fears that it could be outlawed.

With key political figures from the pro-democracy arrested, prosecuted and jailed, a new round of attack on associations and groups in the pro-democracy camp seems to have begun in earnest, seeking to further silence the dissenting voices in the society.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on April 28.

 

 

 

 

 

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A national security storm in two pictures http://www.vohk.hk/2021/04/25/a-national-security-storm-in-two-pictures/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/04/25/a-national-security-storm-in-two-pictures/#respond Sun, 25 Apr 2021 02:10:19 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2203
Apple Daily is accused of spreading fake news by publishing a photo of a national security education day event side by side with one about police brutality at a MTR station.By Chris Yeung — Every picture tells a story. The publication of two pictures makes a storm. The scathing attacks by Hong Kong’s police chief...
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Apple Daily is accused of spreading fake news by publishing a photo of a national security education day event side by side with one about police brutality at a MTR station.

By Chris Yeung —

Every picture tells a story. The publication of two pictures makes a storm. The scathing attacks by Hong Kong’s police chief against the Apple Daily’s publication of two photos – one with pupils playing toy gun and another with alleged police brutality at the Prince Edward MTR station on August 31, 2019 – are a telling case of the weaponisation of the national security law.

Without naming the Apple Daily, Commissioner Chris Tang lambasted certain media for running a picture of the “gun-wielding” pupils side by side with a picture of police officers beating up passengers inside a MTR train. He claimed it was “fake news”, accusing the newspaper for spreading divisiveness and hatred in the society.

Although there is no law on fake news, he said Police were investigating the case and warned they might take those media to court under the existing criminal laws and the national security law.

Tang did not elaborate why the publication of two photos, whose authenticity has not been challenged, with a caption saying netizens have found resemblance of the two could make them a fake.

The simple truth is that Tang is unhappy with the way the newspaper gave an unpalatable, negative spin to the picture of school kids having fun with toy guns at the open day of the Police to mark the city’s first national security education day.

That appears to be a storm in teacup. But the vow of the police chief to penalise the newspaper through fake news law, which is yet to be legislated, and the existing criminal and national security laws has stoked serious fears among journalists and the general populace.

If the same logic applies, anyone who posted the two pictures on social platforms with words linking the kids’ game play with Police’s brutality at the Prince Edward station might be backfired.

And any media outlet publishing pictures of Police brutality (there is no shortage of those photos and video footages) may face accusations of inciting public hatred towards the Police and divisiveness between them and the people.

There is no doubt Tang was targeting the Apple Daily. He said the Police have lodged more than 130 complaints to the newspaper against what they call inaccurate reports, sensational reporting, misleading headlines and the like.

But a complaint is a complaint is a complaint. Any complaint without a ruling by an independent party remains a complaint. The best judge of dubious, substandard and unethical reporting is always the public. Any media organisation that keeps telling lies and being unethical will be deserted by readers.

That the Police chief has muddled the issue of handling of stories by the media with so-called fake news shows a lack of basic understanding about the media. Worse, Tang has warned of invoking criminal law and the national security law to punish those who published fake news. 

His remarks gave more credence to fears that the national security law might become a weapon to suppress dissenting views even though it is a matter of how the media picks and displays photos.

Speaking at a press conference on July 1 last year when the national security law took effect, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Article 4 of the national security law has guaranteed that people of Hong Kong should be able to continue to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, of publication, protest, assembly and so on.

Conviction of RTHK producer Bao Choy deals a body blow to press freedom.

Conviction of RTHK producer Bao Choy deals a body blow to press freedom.

Nearly 10 months on, the threats posed by the national security law on freedoms have proved to be sweeping and profound. Books written by some pro-democracy activists including Joshua Wong had been removed from shelves at public libraries. An activist is facing charges under the national security law for speeches he made at public places. The list goes on.

Tang picked the worst example of fake news when he fingered at the two genuine photos. But he managed to give the best example of how the notion of fake news could be used as a weapon by those with power to gag the press.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on April 21.

 

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