Beijing Squeezes Hong Kong’s Media; China reneges on the democracy and freedom it promised

Beijing Squeezes Hong Kong’s Media

China reneges on the democracy and freedom it promised.

Updated Feb. 24, 2014 7:14 p.m. ET

Hong Kong’s battle over press freedom is escalating, as several thousand journalists and regular Hong Kongers marched on Sunday to protest increasing government pressure on independent media. The “Free Speech, Free Hong Kong” rally is the latest sign that locals won’t quietly let Beijing renege on promises to grant the city democratic self-government by 2017.

Marching to the chief executive’s office, demonstrators condemned this month’s firing of prominent government critic Li Wei-ling from Commercial Radio, an ouster that many suspect is meant to please local officials currently deciding whether to renew the station’s broadcasting license. Protesters also highlighted last month’s firing of Ming Pao newspaper editor Kevin Lau—who had published aggressive reporting on official corruption and human-rights abuses—and December’s news that mainland Chinese companies and international banks had pulled advertising from pro-democracy outlets.

“I have been in this industry for 30 years. I would say this is the worst time,” said protest organizer Shirley Yam, vice chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. China guaranteed Hong Kong press freedom when it took over the city from Britain in 1997, but the ruling Communist Party still finds direct and indirect ways to squeeze local journalists.

The soft approach is to encourage self-censorship, which is easy when most Hong Kong media owners have business interests and political ties that they don’t want to jeopardize by angering Beijing. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than half of local media owners sit on Beijing-appointed government bodies such as the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Journalists who persist with critical reporting risk being fired—the fate of former South China Morning Post staffers Paul Mooney and Willy Lam, among many others—or worse. Last June, iSun Affairs publisher Chen Ping was beaten by a group of men with batons. Days later the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper faced a series of attacks, as thugs twice intercepted deliveries and torched thousands of copies, while others crashed a car into the gate of owner Jimmy Lai’s home, leaving an axe and machete at the scene. Mr. Lai told the Committee to Protect Journalists that local police “can’t chase people into China, and that is where these attacks come from.”

Book publishing can also be dangerous. Hong Kong is famous for bookstores full of salacious exposes about China’s leaders, but Beijing is now trying to quash publication of a biography of President Xi Jinping by a U.S-based Chinese author. Hong Kong publisher Yiu Mantin was planning to release the biography but last October he was detained in the mainland on dubious charges of smuggling. A second publisher was due to issue the book, author Yu Jie told the New York Times NYT +4.09% last week, but he received a threatening phone call this month that deterred him.

Beijing wants to subvert Hong Kong’s media because the Communist Party believes that free speech leads inevitably to chaos and political unrest. The reality is that Beijing’s policies are the greatest cause of discontent and protest in Hong Kong—and the situation will only get more tense if Beijing continues to push “mainlandization” over the transition to democracy it promised.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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