Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Press Freedom in Critical Condition

Ex-Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau wheeled out after surgery under media glare
Former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to is fighting for his life after he was attacked by two men with choppers in Sai Wan Ho.

He was the editor who was shunted aside to make way for pro-Beijing Malaysian Chong Tien Siong, who has no local experience, which was one of the main reasons for Sunday's march of 6,000 people for press freedom.

Lau suffered six cuts, the most serious one was a 16cm-long wound that went from his back to his left chest cavity, severing "all the muscles" in between, said Dr Tang Chung-ngai, chief of service at Pamela Youde Neversole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan.

"Luckily, his lung tissue, major blood vessels and diaphragm were undamaged," said Tang. A 4cm-long cut on his back near his left shoulder was a superficial one.

Just after 10.30am Lau was attacked on Tai Hong Street as he was getting out of his car and even manged to call the police to tell them he'd been ambushed and that the two attackers had fled on a motorcycle.

The chilling incident overshadowed the commencement of Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah's budget speech where he doled out few sweetners (no more electricity subsidies and cigarettes cost 20 percent more). Tsang stated Hong Kong now had a budget surplus of HK$12 billion to make a total of HK$745.9 billion in fiscal reserves.

And he still won't dole out more money.

In fact the budget speech seemed completely irrelevant after Lau's attack was reported.

What is all this money for? Some budget reporters speculated Tsang wouldn't open the purse strings until reserves hit HK$1 trillion.

Indeed what is all this money for when the city can't even protect one of its core values, press freedom.

This is a targeted attack -- so what did Lau do wrong?

Some conspiracy theorists are suggesting the attack was purposely chosen on the day of the budget when reporters were busy, and the sacking of Commercial Radio Host Li Wei-ling also happened on a Wednesday and it is also the publication day of Jimmy Lai's Next Magazine, which cannot report on the incident in a timely manner.

Lau's attack immediately reminded me of outspoken radio host Albert Cheng King-hon who was chopped in 1998 as he was on his way to Commercial Radio's station. Days after the attack he admitted he was scared for his family, but was impressed to see his wife Irene was so strong.

In the intervening years I saw him walking with a cane, determined to make his life as normal as possible, but not without safety precautions.

And now the same fate has fallen on Lau. We hope he will recover after this horrific incident because more than ever he has become a symbol of the fragility of press freedom in Hong Kong.

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