Hong Kong journalists speak out against censorship | News | DW | 18.10.2014
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Hong Kong journalists speak out against censorship

Journalists in Hong Kong have written an open letter criticizing their own television station. They say the station edited video material, whitewashing a case of police brutality against a protester.

The video recording of the ill-treatment of demonstrators by Hong Kong policemen, by now widely disseminated through Western media channels, was also seen on television in Hong Kong. Police officers are shown dragging a protester to a dark corner and proceeding to beat him. The incident occurred early on Wednesday morning after the police removed roadblocks despite protesters' resistance.

The video commentary accordingly contained phrases like "pulled into a dark corner" as well as "pushed and kicked." But none of these words were used that morning by local media who reported the incident, and only later in the afternoon did the descriptions change to "the police may have used violence."

The video was clearly edited several times. Sometime during the day an unofficial statement made by Keith Yuen Chi-wai, director of TVB News, was spliced onto one version of the video and spread online. Only his voice can be heard. He says that what is shown in the video is serious, and may have legal consequences for the police. Because of this, he adds, the broadcaster should be careful. He also expresses doubts that the descriptions of the incident by journalists are objective.

Journalists against self-censorship

Sham Yee-lan, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), contradicted this in a conversation with Deutsche Welle.

"The use of adjectives could be regarded as subjective. But 'push' and 'kick' are objective descriptions of actions. To protect itself, the broadcaster could have used phrases like 'probably' or 'possibly'."

Moreover, she said, a raw video without any commentary could hardly be considered serious journalistic reporting.

On the same day, 46 journalists criticized the behavior of TVB in an open letter. They said the version of events in the TV report was unacceptable. In the letter, they expressed the hope that Hong Kong society could enjoy freedom of the press, which they felt was endangered.

The HKJA demanded an official explanation as to why TVB edited the video. A reporter has the absolute right to report on the actions of the police. "Self-censorship is harmful to Hong Kong," says the declaration made by the association.

In an earlier interview, Sham told DW the problem of self-censorship had her more and more worried. "There used to be many different voices in Hong Kong from both the conservative side and from the pro-democracy side. Now the media scene has become very monotone."

In the Press Freedom Index made by Reporters Without Borders in 2014, Hong Kong is ranked 61. In 2002 it was ranked at 18.

Ominous attacks on the press

The Hong Kong press has had to deal with a lot of aggression in 2014. In January, Kevin Lau was deposed as chief editor of the respected newspaper "Ming Pao" and at the end of February, he was attacked in the street and badly injured.

Hong Kong Demonstration für Pressefreiheit

Staff members of the Ming Pao newspaper took part in a demonstration to demand more press freedom in March 2014

In March, two senior executives of Hong Kong's Morning News Media Group, who were planning to start a newspaper, were assaulted.

For observers in Hong Kong, the attacks reflect an increased general threat to critical journalists. Also in 2014, in February, the government-critical radio presenter Li Wei-ling was fired. In July, the website of the pro-democracy news portal "House News" was closed, and all content has since been deleted. The only thing that remains on the site is a letter from co-founder Tony Tsoi, in which he writes, "I'm scared."

Sham Yee-lan has seen a change since 2003, after the mass protests against planned emergency laws allowing for the massive curtailment of civil rights in the cases of "treason," "infiltration," "separtism," etc. caused the leadership in Hong Kong to react. In the end, the laws were not adopted in the face of 500,000 protesters.

"But freedom of the press has subsequently suffered significant losses," Sham said.

"The problem is the media not only gets pressure from outside. They have also begun to censor themselves."

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