More than 80 percent of owners or supervisors of Hong Kong’s 26 media outlets have been given major positions and appointments in public services, or awarded by the government with honors in recognition of their contributions, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
And the most influential English newspaper and television station are no longer independent as they have been either tainted or directly run by red capital from mainland China.
That said, it is not surprising that Hong Kong has plunged to 73rd place among 180 countries and regions in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index from 18th when the benchmark was first introduced in 2002.
Recently, a leading figure in the field expressed his grief that 80 or 90 percent of the mass media outlets have taken sides while the remaining ones are serving private ends.
That highlights the plight of the Hong Kong media — pressure from “the invisible hand” is one thing, those that make use of the public resources for their private purposes is another kind of evil.
Hong Kong’s media outlets tend to be market-oriented, populist and sensational or make use of their own influence to upset political or commercial opponents.
But to be fair, the system wasn’t built in a day.
The field has gone astray since the 1990s when Apple Daily spearheaded the application of market-led principles and flooded the city with sensational reports, hysterical commentary and paparazzi culture.
In addition, the Chinese government has realised the importance of the press after the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, aggressively deploying direct and indirect means to take control of media outlets. Some became the targets of mergers and acquisitions and others turned themselves into government mouthpieces for financial or political rewards.
The most obvious decline in the past two decades is the loss of diversity and independence. There is no comparison the reports and commentaries in 1989 and at present.
Dubbed the “fourth estate”, the mass media, especially print journalism, plays a vital role in monitoring the government, politicians, public and private organizations, in exposing scandals and making the voices of the underprivileged heard.
However, when the media loses its independence and no longer plays its primary role of monitoring various sectors for the public interest, society as a whole will suffer.
Do we still have “one country, two systems”? Should we celebrate the handover anniversary or mourn the death of the Hong Kong media?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 7
Translation by John Chui
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