Call to rein in media stirs fears in Hong Kong
In this story:
March 13, 1998
Web posted at: 8:49 p.m. EST (0149 GMT)
From Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy
HONG KONG (CNN) -- A call-in show on Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the territory's public broadcaster, is a forum for public complaints, political debate and provocative analysis.
Since Hong Kong's handover to China last year, RTHK and other local media have continued to operate freely despite fears of interference from Beijing.
But in the past few days, concern has arisen over whether media freedom might be in jeopardy.
Xu Simin, a member of a Chinese government advisory body and the publisher of a pro-Beijing paper in Hong Kong, demanded that the Chinese government rein in RTHK.
"The Hong Kong media make fun of public officials," the elderly Xu declared angrily. "Why is the government wasting its money on such programs?"
Xu called on Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to end negative reporting at RTHK. In response, Tung defended press freedom, but also urged the station to present government policies in a more positive light.
Xu's demand and Tung's response set off alarm bells among some here.
Majority supports free media
"Most people in Hong Kong support the independence of RTHK," says Terry Nealon of RTHK. "Actually, they support freedom of press and freedom of expression.
"People in Hong Kong are sophisticated people. They are used to a free media. They would notice very quickly if that changed and RTHK were to come under some editorial control from outside. Frankly, they wouldn't listen to us and wouldn't watch us."
Adding to the anxiety is a requirement in Hong Kong's post-colonial constitution, imposed by Beijing, that requires the local legislature to pass a law on subversion and sedition.
"Hong Kong cannot be a base for anti-China subversion," Tung says.
"When you talk about behavior such as sedition or subversion, .you are immediately talking about opinion," says Frances Moriarty, a Hong Kong journalist.
A recent poll shows that 86 percent of the public is opposed to government control of the media and 62 percent said RTHK should be free to criticize the government.
Furthermore, top Chinese leaders have distanced themselves from the Xu's call for a crackdown. Some have concluded that the pressure is coming not from Beijing, but from home-grown leftists who are unhappy at the fact that so little in Hong Kong has changed since the handover.