- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

Four and a half years after Hong Kong's return to China, the territory's government is creating an environment of media self-censorship and is influencing reporting on issues sensitive to Chinese leadership, a journalists group says.
"This is done by favoring those journalists and media organizations that are not overly critical of the government," says Cliff Bale, a Hong Kong journalist and one of the authors of the report.
The favors take the form of "government leaks, one-on-one interviews," he says.
The 2001 report published earlier this year by the Hong Kong Journalists Association is critical of Hong Kong's media organizations and the government's interference.
"Certain subjects are emerging as 'no-go' areas for some media outlets, and journalists sometimes quick to pick up what their editors want will simply never suggest articles on these subjects," the report says.
No-go areas include Taiwanese, Tibetan and Xinjiang independence movements, political and religious dissidence, and Hong Kong business concerns and leadership struggles on mainland China.
"There is still a strong perception of news that is too sensitive or controversial that might antagonize Chinese leadership and [the journalists] become more cautious," says Chris Yeung, political editor of the South China Morning Post, the largest English-language newspaper in Hong Kong.
The report also says the government helps determine what is covered by "courting editors and doing deals."
By most accounts Hong Kong has a dynamic media 16 daily newspapers, four commercial television stations and two commercial radio stations that function with no direct government control.
The U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights around the world released this month said Hong Kong's law "provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respects this right in practice."
The report, however, also reflected the local journalists' concerns that "some journalists and news media practice a degree of self-censorship, particularly in mainland-related reporting."
The Heritage Foundation's annual Index to Economic Freedom report also lists Hong Kong as the freest economy for the eighth straight year.
Mak Yin-Ting, a Radio Television Hong Kong reporter who heads the journalists association, says the media do a good job covering local news.
For instance, the media recently covered Taiwanese protesters who were detained at Hong Kong's airport and sent back. And the report lauded coverage of Falun Gong, even after Chinese President Jiang Zemin warned the press it had a "social responsibility" when reporting on the group.
"We feared the worst before 1997, and it turns out that self-censorship is not perceived to be a major problem right now," Clement So, a Chinese University of Hong Kong journalism professor says, but notes he has seen a change in media sentiment toward Beijing.
"In the past, 'pro-China' and 'pro-Hong Kong' were two concepts on opposite sides of the political continuum. But now, five years after the hand-over, these two concepts [have] become almost the same," Mr. So says.
Now Hong Kong journalists might not even be aware they are self-censoring, Miss Mak says. "It creates an environment where reporters are not even aware of what is going on."


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