Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Government's Grip On Hong Kong Media Tightens With Attack On Editor

Kevin Lau (Pic. courtesy AP/WJS)


Kevin Lau, 49, former editor of Hong Kong’s Chinese-language daily Ming Pao was critically wounded, Wednesday, when he was struck by an assailant with cleaver, said Associated Press. This follows his abrupt dismissal on January 7 as the editor of the newspaper, apparently due to reporting corruption and human rights abuses in China. 


Lau was stabbed a number of times on his back and legs as he was getting out of his car by a man riding the pillion of a motorbike in broad daylight in the area where his apartment is located. The Wall Street Journal said “Police are reviewing security cameras for leads on suspects. Hong Kong is an exceptionally safe city, and random crime—especially of this magnitude—is almost unheard of. So suspicion that the attack was politically motivated is widespread and warranted.”

The act caused immediate outrage in Hong Kong and internationally.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported the Hong Kong Journalists Association in a joint statement with eight other media groups saying, “The attacker is not only targeting at the media sector, but also challenging the rule of law and security of Hong Kong through attacking Lau under broad daylight.”

“This clearly premeditated attack must not go unpunished,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head, Asia-Pacific desk of the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF). “The attack highlights the overall decline in freedom of information in Hong Kong, which includes a decline in the safety of journalists.”

The attack is all the more alarming because Lau appointed as editor of the Ming Pao in 2012 was replaced last month by Malaysian journalist Chong Tien Siong who used to edit the Nanyang Siang Pau. AP drew attention to the unsuitability of his appointment by observing that he had no “local experience.” WSJ said Lau’s dismissal had provoked widespread protests within the newspaper company with 90% of the staff filing a petition demanding an explanation for the move, while four columnists left their spaces blank in disapproval.

According to WSJ, Lau had been a vocal critic of the ‘national education policy’ that Beijing was aiming to introduce into the public school system of the former British colony. The move backfired due to public protests. Interestingly, Siong who replaced Lau as editor had backed the national education policy, said WSJ.

“The attack on Mr. Lau is especially alarming because it’s part of a pattern. Recent years have seen a spate of physical attacks on Hong Kong media critical of China’s ruling Communist Party and its local allies,” observes WSJ.

The newspaper cited recent incidents that include “the baton beating of iSun Affairs publisher Chen Ping, the theft and burning of some 20,000 copies of Apple Daily newspaper, and the failed attack on the home of Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai.”

In an earlier story WSJ reported that Li Wei-Ling, another government critic, was fired from Commercial Radio in February, “an ouster that many suspect is meant to please local officials currently deciding whether to renew the station’s broadcasting license.”

Deteriorating levels of media freedom had raised concerns even before Wednesday’s attack on Lau. On Sunday, ‘Free Speech, Free Hong Kong’ rally took to the streets protesting official interference in Hong Kong media.

Although Hong Kong is guaranteed press freedom under the constitution when it was taken over by China in 1997, this has not been realised in practice because of pressures brought on the media by the CCP. The pressures not only targets individual journalists, editors and publishers who highlight human rights abuses and corruption by government elites. It includes companies and international banks from the mainland that pull out advertising from pro-democracy outlets in Hong Kong, said WSJ.

“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,” said WSJ.

“Press freedom in Hong Kong is facing an extremely grim future,” veteran journalist Ching Cheong, who was imprisoned by the ruling Chinese Communist Party from 2005-2008 on charges of spying for Taiwan, told RFA following Sunday’s protest. “State power is now continually triumphing over press freedom.”

Wednesday’s stabbing of Lau seems a step further in that direction. 
 

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