Thursday, 13 February 2014

HK's Erosion of Free Press

Radio host Li Wei-ling was fired, but the station gave no plausible reason
Hong Kong's press freedoms continue to erode with the sacking of Commercial Radio host Li Wei-ling Wednesday afternoon.

She finished her show, went out for lunch and soon afterwards received a call that her services were no longer needed. She wasn't even allowed to go back to the station to collect her personal belongings.

Sources say Li was calm about it. On her Facebook page she wrote: "Although they can ruthlessly remove me from my position, they can't stop me from monitoring Hong Kong's current affairs."

The Journalists Association said it was "highly concerned" about the dismissal, saying the station's lack of explanation was "not responsible".

"Commercial Radio's abrupt and ruthless sacking of Li was shocking," said lawmaker and former journalist Claudia Mo Man-ching. "There was not even a notice period for her."

The sacking came less than three months after Li was controversially moved from the prime-time breakfast program On A Clear Day to the less popular Tipping Point which she joined early in her career with the company.

The incident follows on the heels of Ming Pao, where the paper moved its chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to to the online division, and now at the helm as deputy editor is Chong Tien Siong, a Malaysian with no local experience.

Staff at the 55-year-old paper protested by organizing rallies and petitions. Columnists such as Martin Lee Chu-ming, the Democratic Party's founding chairman left his space blank in the paper to show their discontent.

Chong is considered pro-establishment and so journalists at the paper are concerned of the future of Ming Pao, as well as the new editor's lack of local experience.

What is going on in Hong Kong? How have press freedoms eroded so quickly -- less than 20 years after the handover?

Back in 2003 everyone was united under one cause -- opposing Article 23 -- the subversion law.

But now there are so many issues people are worried about -- pollution, landfills, inflation, housing, democracy, the mainland invasion, national education and press freedoms, so it is hard to build a strong base to fight against them effectively.

However press freedom is so crucial to having a civil society. That is how the community can be sure the government, corporations and others can be held accountable for their actions and give ordinary people a voice.

Li was known as an active government critic. She used the airwaves to voice her discontent with the Leung Chun-ying administration -- but she was also probably voicing the opinions of hundreds of thousands of other people.

The government needs to hear these criticisms whether it likes it or not; only then can it improve on its governance.

When there is no outlet for people to voice their true opinions then you get a place like China, where protestors have to go to more extreme lengths to have their voices heard. Does Hong Kong want to have a reputation for having black jails and persecuting critics by locking them up or harassing them and their loved ones to no end on taxpayers' expense?

We are living in One Country, Two Systems. Let us, Hong Kong, show China what a civil society is, that we can flourish economically and socially because we have things like freedom of speech, rule of law and a free press.

Because of these assurances, this is what makes Hong Kong and truly international city. When these values start to erode then trust in the city starts to fade and investment disappears... and it could soon morph into another Chinese city.

Is this what Hong Kong wants?


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