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Media, Politics, and Press Freedom in Post-handover Hong Kong Francis L. F. Lee City University of Hong Kong Press Freedom in Hong Kong What does press freedom mean in Hong Kong? Did Hong Kong have a tradition of press freedom?

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media politics and press freedom in post handover hong kong

Media, Politics, and Press Freedom in Post-handover Hong Kong

Francis L. F. Lee

City University of Hong Kong

press freedom in hong kong
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • What does press freedom mean in Hong Kong? Did Hong Kong have a tradition of press freedom?
  • Harsh press laws existed in colonial Hong Kong, but the laws were seldom exercised
    • The China factor
    • The British government’s philosophy
    • A minimally integrated social-political system
    • A press system highly oriented towards national politics
press freedom in hong kong3
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • Press freedom in Hong Kong has never received very adequate legal protection, the tradition of press freedom was only a result of a confluence of certain social and political factors
  • From 1940s to 1970s, “press freedom” in Hong Kong mainly meant the freedom for the press to criticize China and Taiwan
press freedom in hong kong4
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • From the early 1980s to 1997
    • By 1980, a local Hong Kong society has developed
    • The press also became much more local-oriented
    • The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984
    • A dual-power structure and a power vacuum
    • the Hong Kong press enjoyed the greatest degree of freedom in its history
press freedom in hong kong5
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • After 1997, the dual power structure ended
  • Political pressure increased, but press freedom did not simply “die”
    • Constraints on the Chinese government
    • Hong Kong journalists’ sense of professionalism
    • Hong Kong media’s commercial concern
press freedom in hong kong6
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • A strategic interaction between the power holders and the Hong Kong media appeared
    • The Chinese and Hong Kong government attempted to control the Hong Kong media, but they could do so only through indirect and covert means
    • The aim is to induce self-censorship among the media
    • The Hong Kong media may put up a certain degree of resistance from time to time, using a specific set of strategies
press freedom in hong kong7
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • Ways to induce self-censorship adopted by the government
    • Drawing the basic ground rules
      • The “three nos” policy
      • Presumably, the Hong Kong media are free to cover everything other than the few taboo areas
      • The Hong Kong media can be highly critical towards the Hong Kong government and on local issues, but have been much less critical when covering China
press freedom in hong kong8
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • Cooptation of media owners
    • Several media owners in Hong Kong (e.g., Peter Woo, Charles Ho) are members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee
    • Chinese corporations owning Hong Kong media, e.g., Sing Pao, ATV
    • Some media owners have substantial business interests in China, e.g., Robert Kuok of SCMP
    • Media ownership is concentrated in the hands of businesspeople sharing the same interests
press freedom in hong kong9
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • Informal warnings and criticisms
    • Chinese officials occasionally criticized the Hong Kong media for their handling of certain sensitive topics
  • Chickens and monkeys
    • Xi Yang
    • Ching Cheong
press freedom in hong kong10
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • Media resistance
    • Professionalism as practices
      • E.g., juxtaposition of positive and negative point of views
      • E.g., borrowing the authority of academics, poll findings, etc.
      • E.g., reporting on what other media outlets have already covered
    • Professionalism as self-defense in the public arena
press freedom in hong kong11
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • Commercialism: Political stance as a selling point
    • Apple Daily as a boundary signifier for the other media
  • Local interest orientation: the need to defend important local interests
    • SARS outbreak
    • National security legislation
press freedom in hong kong12
Press Freedom in Hong Kong
  • In sum,
    • The basic conditions in post-handover Hong Kong are not conducive to press freedom – lack of democracy, lack of balance of power, etc.
    • But there are also counteracting forces pulling the media away from the power center
      • Professionalism, commercial concerns, local interests orientation
    • The boundaries of press freedom are continually shifting as a result of the strategic interaction between the power holders and the media
self censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom
Self-censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom
  • Some news organizations may feel the pressure and attempt to practice self-censorship
  • However, journalists are professionals, it would be difficult and highly inappropriate for managers to order the journalists to practice self-censorship
  • So, how can self-censorship be practiced?
    • Structural basis
    • Interactive dynamics
self censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom16
Self-censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom
  • Interactive dynamics
    • 1. Observational learning
      • 「在新聞機構內,禁忌不需用白紙黑字寫下來的。每個人都明白。你進入了機構內工作,你會知道。 」
      • 「在我開始的時候,上司不會說甚麼的,但你可以看到他怎樣處理某些新聞。有一些字去掉了,或者說某些事件報道的篇幅比較少。過了一些時間,你感覺到那是甚麼一回事。 」
self censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom17
Self-censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom
  • 2. Ambiguous order
    • 「小心點!」 「醒目一點! 」
    • 「 甚麼叫醒目一點?……他從來不會很正式的告訴你甚麼不可以做,因為如果也給你清楚的指示,直接說不的話,我會看我可可以接受。不能接受的話我就離開。但困難在他從不說甚麼不可以做,全都是你自己去估計。 」
self censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom18
Self-censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom
  • 3. Order couched in technical or professional terms
    • 客觀平衡的新聞處理:七一遊行人數和台灣倒扁運動的參加人數的報道手法對比
    • 對七一遊行口號的處理
self censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom19
Self-censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom
  • Journalists may resist what they perceive as self-censorship
  • Sometimes, they might indeed try to argue with their managers, and they felt that usually they could win the argument
self censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom20
Self-censorship and strategic interaction within the newsroom
  • Limit of resistance
    • Difficult to raise an argument in ambiguous situations
    • Even if one wins an argument, the process may hurt morale and mutual trust
    • Arguing is simply unpleasant; one may stop resisting not because one accepts self-censorship, but just because one wants to have a more pleasant working environment
  • Self-censorship can be the outcome without anyone ordering it and the involved journalists knowingly practicing it
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