China leans on Hong Kong’s press
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China leans on Hong Kong’s press

Under threat Beijing pulls the strings, editors move, tycoons shift advertising, writes Asia Sentinel’s Cyril Pereira

Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest newspaper readership densities. Its freewheeling press has six free newspapers, five communist dailies, three general dailies, two financial papers, two religious journals, one robustly pro-democracy icon plus two English language papers and three global ones. Hong Kong citizens enjoy the full spectrum of the good, bad, trusted and spun press. This unbridled feistiness is an integral part of what defines their city.

But Beijing is not amused. The paralysis of the CY Leung administration is blamed on a critical press – often ferreting out stuff which makes officialdom look duplicitous and untrustworthy. This kind of whistle-blowing is not acceptable. Beijing believes it makes Hong Kong ungovernable. Locals see the cleavage dividing citizens from government as a consequence of lack of trust, transparency and accountability abased by self-serving Beijing appointed enforcers.

The central government’s long-evaded promise to allow direct election of the Hong Kong chief executive has been reluctantly conceded by the National Peoples’ Congress for 2017 – a full two decades after the liberation of the territory’s compatriots from “150 years of shame” amid promises of ‘one country two systems’ and ‘Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong’.

Universal suffrage

The government duly published a consultation document (Dec 4, 2013) soliciting public input on how the legislative council should be elected in 2016 and the chief executive in 2017. Political pundits in the press and on radio have shaken out the contradictions in the government’s consultation paper, questioning its sincerity. They say it is a fake consultation process when officials warn the public that any deviation from Beijing’s rigged formula is invalid. They wonder why the charade?

Rimsky Yuen, Secretary for Justice, urged Hong Kong citizens in the South China Morning Post on Feb. 4 to accept the ‘imperfect’ electoral system proposed – citing risk to the territory’s international investment rating if it is not implemented. The Post had a cartoon on its Op:Ed page mocking that illogic, when Singapore and China suffer no lack of foreign investment despite their shambolic politics. Money flows for profit, not principle.

Having admitted that the formula tabled is ‘imperfect’ on such a vital issue as universal suffrage, Rimsky even made the daft suggestion that the rigged electoral formula could be reformed in later years beyond 2017. Such double-speak by appointed officials rarely goes unchallenged by the Hong Kong press. This is precisely what irritates Beijing, whose rubber-stamp legislatures are streamlined to endorse whatever its leaders propose and obedient media cheerlead. The press in Hong Kong is seen as troublesome and untamed.

Apple Daily upsets Beijing

Apple Daily is particularly irksome. It has declared the public consultation document a sham and campaigns vigorously for ‘true democracy’. It seems to have informers everywhere and no back-room deal is safe. It takes a shrill attitude to official malfeasance. It supports pro-democracy politicians, the Occupy Central planners and the student movement Scholarium which opposes patriotic education. It ridicules pro-Beijing politicians. It vilifies Hong Kong’s compromised tycoons who have pulled out about HK$100m in annual advertising from the paper. It refuses to die or go away.

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