Recently, the issue of freedom of the press has in the spotlight in Hong Kong. Last Sunday there was a protest march by journalists calling for press freedom and condemning censorship (Hong Kong journalists take to streets for press freedom). Three days later, a former editor of Ming Pao, Kevin Lau Chun-to (whose recent dismissal was one of the events leading to the protest), was slashed by an unknown assailant and is now hospitalized and in critical condition (Hong Kong Editor Whose Ouster Stirred Protests Is Slashed.
There are a few questions to consider:
1. The Role of the Press
What exactly is the role of the press in Hong Kong?
Traditionally in western-style democracy, the press has two related roles:
- It keeps citizens informed and educated about their community and about the world around so that they may make better decisions and so that they can better carry out their civic duties.
- It acts as a watchdog to prevent the government (or other powerful parties) from abusing power.
In order to fulfill these two roles properly the press needs to be largely free from control. No one is saying that the press in Western democracies is perfect or free from control, but there is a clear view of what its ideal role.
This is not the only view of the role of the press, however, For example the central government of China (as well as many other governments in the world) views the main functions of the press as:
- Assisting the government in promoting social stability and harmony
- Disseminating information on behalf of the government
According to the president of CCTV, the mainland news broadcasterL ”The first social responsibility and professional ethic of media staff should be understanding their role clearly and being a good [government] mouthpiece. Journalists who think of themselves as professionals, instead of as propaganda workers, are making a fundamental mistake about identity.” (Pursuing Soft Power, China Puts Stamp on Africa’s News).
Should Hong Kong be following the western-democratic concept of the press, in which freedom is essential or should it follow the more government-friendly and government-controlled model followed by many other countries? Why?
2. Sources of Censorship
Is the press freedom in Hong Kong being undermined by censorship from the Central Government by censorship from the Hong Kong government and/or by self-censorship?
3. Taking Action
If you think a free press is important, what can you do to protect and promote it? if you think the press should focus on promoting social stability and harmony on behalf of the government, how can you persuade others that freedom of the press is not important?
4. Criminal Acts
Who do you think is behind the recent attacks on journalists and what do you think their motives are?
We look forward to reading your opinions.