FREEDOM of expression is being eroded thanks to the
government's desire to do Beijing's bidding, according to a local
Official attacks on the Falun Gong movement, pressure on reporting
Taiwan, and prosecutions under laws which contravene human rights
standards were singled out in a joint report published yesterday by
the Hong Kong Journalists Association and Article 19, a UK-based,
international watchdog on censorship.
"We know that the Chinese government and the Hong Kong authorities
have an interest in conserving, to some degree, the openness and
freedoms of the city," the report's compilers said.
"However, it is being made perfectly clear that certain activities
and forms of speech taken for granted in established democracies will
no longer be tolerated in Hong Kong.
"We hope the authorities . . . will take note of our recommendations
and call upon them to respect their obligation to safeguard not only
the right to freedom of expression, but also to uphold and enhance the
related rights of freedom of information, assembly and association."
The free flow of information is one of the four pillars of the Hong
Kong system, according to senior officials, alongside the rule of law,
clean and transparent government and a level playing field for
The report highlights the comments made by Tung Chee-hwa and other
officials "vilifying" the Falun Gong. "What is plain," its authors
said, "is that the shrill rhetoric threatens open debate by
The report also cites several incidents that are cause for concern:
President Jiang Zemin's critical comments about the Hong Kong media
during his "I'm angry" outburst in Beijing last October, underlined
by his call in December in Macau for the media to pay attention to
The resignation of Willy Wo-Lap Lam, China editor of the Sound China
Morning Post, after he believed he had been sidelined following public
criticism of his reporting by the newspaper's controlling shareholder,
Robert Kuok Hock Nien.
The report also describes as ominous signs the use of the public order
law to exert pressure on demonstrators, including students, and
further prosecutions under the law banning desecration of Hong Kong
flags and emblems.
Mak Yin-ting, who chairs the journalists' association, said: "More
and more newspapers self-censor themselves because they are controlled
by either a businessman with close ties to Beijing, or part of a large
enterprise, which has financial interests over the border."
Ms Mak criticised the "rosy picture" drawn by reporting of the
"Go-West" campaign, giving rise to another worry that Hong Kong
media toe the Beijing line. She said television coverage failed to
give much insight into the complex economic problems in the western
The government hit back at the accusations. "The allegation by the
Hong Kong Journalists Association that human rights and freedoms in
Hong Kong are being eroded is groundless," a spokesman said.
"Ever since the establishment of the HKSAR, the government has
faithfully implemented the Basic Law. Human rights and freedoms are
fully protected. The media in Hong Kong have maintained their
vigilance in commenting on current affairs and in holding the
"When the World Association of Newspapers' Congress was held in Hong
Kong in June, both local and foreign media representatives
acknowledged the successful implementation of `One Country, Two
Systems' and affirmed that the freedom of speech had been upheld."
On Falun Gong, the spokesman reiterated the government's view that the
group must be watched in the interest of public order and safety. He
also described media reports on western China as "objective and
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