Editorial: Society without media supervision can only be corrupt | Apple Daily HK

2021.05.10
Editorial Society without media supervision can only be corrupt Apple Daily HK

By Lo Fung

Several local journalism awards have been announcing their winners. Among which, the Human Rights Journalism Award co-organized by Amnesty International Hong Kong, The Journalists Association, and The Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong. These annual awards are supposed to be a celebration among those in the industry, where everyone congratulates each other; yet this year has been very different. There are sighs, worries, and melancholy, a feeling of not knowing what the future holds. Some veteran judges and commentators penned articles that express worries that this will be the swan song of the Human Rights Journalism Awards, because by this time next year, several of these organizers may not be able to continue to host these events, and there may be few media organizations that will be allowed to participate and willing to participate.

What a killjoy to be “worrying” the minute the awards were given out. Imagine if following the Oscars, judges and professionals are publishing high-profile articles expressing the worries that the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can no longer host the Oscars, wouldn’t that spoil the fun? It could also provoke overwhelming discontent. The question is that these sort of disparaging remarks did not intend to provoke, but a realistic reflection of the plight and worries of the industry and journalists who are well aware of the situation they are in.

More obstacles on reporting imposed by RTHK

The difficult situations for local news and media are not news. Since the Anti-ELAB movement, the government, the pro-establishment, and the law enforcement organizations have been increasingly hostile towards the news industry, particularly frontline news workers. They have been met with increasing obstruction in every aspect including systems, policies, and daily arrangements. Take for example the winner of this year’s Human Rights Journalism Award, “7.21 Who Owns the Truth”. RTHK’s journalists, including Miss Bao Choy Yuk-ling, worked hard to gather clues and evidence to discover the truth of what happened that day, such that the public and audience can have a more comprehensive understanding of this violent incident of indiscriminate attacks that shocked the entire Hong Kong.

It is not surprising that such a great piece of work would win the recognition of its peers in the industry and a great award. Yet not long after the episode was aired, before it was even being considered for the award, Bao Choy had been arrested at her residence for violating the regulations for accessing vehicle license plate, and was quickly convicted in court. Thankfully, the judge only imposed a fine and not imprisonment, otherwise, Miss Bao Choy would be receiving her award in prison.

What’s worrying and sad is that not only law enforcement agencies are after these kinds of reporting and journalists, but also RTHK, a public broadcaster. Since the new Director of Broadcasting, Patrick Li, took over, RTHK has been purging, deleting, and removing its own staff and homemade programs. During this year’s Human Rights Journalism Awards, RTHK requested the withdrawal of works in the final judging stage to prevent them from being considered for the awards; after the request was rejected by the organizers, it announced that it would not accept the award. When the winners were announced, RTHK not only did not feel happy for its staff, but made no comments. The only thing left to deny is that “7.21 Who Owns the Truth” was made by RTHK.

In addition, RTHK’s senior officials have recently been going after investigative reports and producers, and have already arranged for reports to be withdrawn, programs involving sensitive materials to be banned, and frontline reporters and veteran producers to be sacked…In short, professional journalists are pushed to a corner in Hong Kong, where they are no longer tolerated.

Journalists stuck in an impasse, making it hard to uncover the dark side of society

Regarding the series of purges, including the ban on participating in competitions and withdrawal of programs, RTHK’s senior officials made no comments except that RTHK has a “new mechanism” to review programs. They also stressed RTHK’s editorial independence, and that onlookers should respect this autonomy and not make arbitrary speculations. However, the new leadership of RTHK, especially the Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li, are all administrative officers. Even his role as “Editor-in-Chief” of RTHK is already incomprehensible and made many feel disrespected. And with this person with zero professional background and experience wave around the “imperial sword” of editorial independence and arbitrarily change RTHK, to rewrite the mission of a public broadcaster and professional operation norms which were once effective, it is no different from the negation of professional ethics and values with a single person’s opinion. Outstanding journalists are left in a dilemma (when reporting is hindered by law enforcement and obstructed by harsh laws) and soldiers (who disapprove and disrespect investigative journalism) chasing after them. Under such circumstances, it will be very difficult to have outstanding works like “7.21 Who Owns the Truth” again. Journalists who are capable will have nowhere to go and nowhere to contribute their skills. Many social issues and dark sides of society may never be exposed, and society as a whole will only suffer even more.

High-level SAR officials have been recently chanting that they respect the freedom of the press but journalists do not have special privileges, and that news reporting has to abide by the law. Such a statement is to confuse the public. Hong Kong’s journalists have never asked for any special privileges or statuses above the law. What journalists strive for is the public’s right to know through the uncovering of truth, such that anything from societal, enterprise, and governmental issues to corruption could be exposed, and thereby preventing the abuse of power, and using power for personal gain and profit. Take the access to vehicle registration, for example, journalists need to verify the identity in order to avoid wronging the good people. During legislation, law enforcement, and adjudication, law enforcement agencies, the government, and the court should all take public interests into consideration. They should not see public opinion and news supervision as irrelevant, and definitely should not punish these as deliberate problem-creation. Otherwise, award-winning in-depth news reports will all become a thing of the past, and social fraud and corruption will grow exponentially at the lack of supervision, and Hong Kong’s clean and fair environment will disappear forever.

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