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Another Assault On Hong Kong’s Media

Banner at a rally for press freedom in Hong Kong (Pic courtesy BBC)

Two senior executives of a media organisation about to launch a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong were attacked in broad daylight on March 19 provoking disturbing questions about press freedom in this semi-autonomous region of China, while memories of the attack on Ming Paoeditor Kevin Lao remained fresh in people’s mind.

A man and a woman identified as Lei Iun-han, director and vice-president, and Lam Kin-ming, news controller of Hong Kong Media Group were attacked by four masked men in Kowloon’s tourist spot of Tsim Sha Tsui with metal bars and suffered injuries to their to their face, arms and legs.
The suspects escaped and the Wall Street Journal said the police had not attributed motive nor had any arrests been made.
The China Post described the newspaper to be launched as “independent.” It quoted pro-democracy lawmaker James To telling reporters “I suspect the attack has something to do with the work they have put into this newspaper. Does someone not want this paper to come out?”
WSJ said “The Hong Kong Journalists Association condemned the attack, saying Hong Kong upholds the rule of law and the city won’t tolerate any violent activity.”
The China Post quoted the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong statement: “After the attack on Kevin Lau, who remains in hospital with grave injuries, this latest incident only underscores the deepening shadows being cast over the media landscape in Hong Kong from violence, intimidation and interference by political and commercial interests.”
The attack is the latest in a series that media monitors say is orchestrated by interested parties in mainland China to force Hong Kong’s media to conform to the political interests of parties on the mainland. Hong Kong that was a British colony was transferred to Chinese control in 1997.
In February Kevin Lau, who was forced out of editorship of the Ming Pao a month earlier was assaulted during daylight hours on the streets by two youth riding a motor bike. Police arrested nine persons in connection with the incident and charged two earlier on Wednesday. Police sad they were connected to organised crime, WSJ said.
February also saw two protest demonstrations by people demanding greater media freedom.
“This latest assault further confirms the worsening climate for press freedom in Hong Kong,” said Joel Simon, executive director, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) about the most recent incident. “Authorities must launch a swift and thorough inquiry into this attack and bring those responsible to justice.”

Concern For Lives Of Journalists In Hong Kong

Journalists of Ming Pao at Sunday’s rally (Pic. Reuters)

As thousands of protestors in Hong Kong on Sunday condemned the knife attack on Kevin Lao, believed to be because of his hard-hitting writing on corruption and human rights abuses, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) launched the Chinese version of its ‘Journalists Security Guide.’

“The guide has been available in other languages for more than a year but, frankly, we didn’t see a Chinese version as a priority… The Chinese version has been up for a few days, but now, in the wake of Wednesday’s attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to in Hong Kong, seems a good time to draw attention to it,” writes Bob Dietz, director Asia programme at CPJ.
Reuterssaid that over 13,000 demonstrators had participated in the march which was 8600 strong at its peak. Journalists, wearing black with blue ribbons, had carried a large banner saying, “They can’t kill us all,” while others read “Freedom from fear” and “Protect press freedom.”
Lao was stabbed in his back and legs, Wednesday, by two men riding a motorbike who are yet to be apprehended. It is believed the motive for Lao’s attack, and others on media organisations and journalists recently, is to stifle mounting criticism in the Hong Kong media of the anti-democratic practices of Beijing and Hong Kong SAR.
“We’re not going to bow to the intimidation,” said Shirley Yam, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, one of the organizers of the protest, reported Reuters. “That’s the strong message we want to send whoever it is that the Hong Kong media is going to stand firm and do whatever’s best for press freedom and the right for our citizens to be informed.”
While journalists on Sunday came together to protest repression and the stifling of free speech, CPJ’s ‘Journalists Security Guide’ deals with more immediate concerns of journalists protecting themselves while doing their job.
“There are several sections of the guide that deal with being aware of one’s surroundings, varying one’s routes (Lau was apparently attacked outside his regular morning restaurant stop), and responding to threats – though there have been no reports of threats directed toward Lau. There is also a valuable section on information security, and for Hong Kong journalists working under ever-closer scrutiny, it is a useful resource,” says Dietz.
Click for Journalists Security Guide in English hereand in Chinese here

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 Paoin 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 Dailyowner Jimmy Lai.”
In an earlier story WSJreported 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 RFAfollowing Sunday’s protest. “State power is now continually triumphing over press freedom.”
Wednesday’s stabbing of Lau seems a step further in that direction.