Media Organizations urges action to protect free expression and press freedom

 

June 27, 2004

 

Recent events have called into question the firmness of resolve on the part of the Hong Kong government in protecting the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression guaranteed to Hong Kong under the Basic Law.

 

Four major SAR media organizations -- the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), Press Photographers Association (HKPPA), Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong (FCC), and the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) - have come together to express their deepening concern about the future of a free press amid an atmosphere of growing intolerance toward difference of opinion.

 

While defense of the press rests ultimately with the press itself, much responsibility also falls on the government.

 

Accordingly, the four organizations - representing the breadth of the journalistic community -- jointly call on the Central and Hong Kong governments to recognize the seriousness and urgency of the issue, and to take all practicable steps to protect free expression and a free press. We believe that statements in defense of basic values, while welcome, are insufficient if unaccompanied by action.

 

Unfortunately, the administration's statements in defense of critical values are all too often tardy, selective and unpersuasive; unsurprisingly, they find a declining audience in an increasingly skeptical community. What we are witnessing is not only an erosion of basic values but a corresponding erosion of their defense.

 

Reversing this downward spiral requires clear, consistent and timely action by officials at all levels. They must demonstrate an ongoing dedication to transparency, tolerance, and personal credibility. They must show that they accept these values by acting firmly against intolerance and social marginalization, irrespective of the quarter from which it comes.

 

There can be no politically acceptable form of discrimination, nor should anyone be immune from criticism by virtue of his or her position -- particularly when acting on behalf of the government.

 

Specifically, we urge the SAR government to:

 

1)  Refrain from any action that may threaten freedom of expression or freedom of the press;

 

2)  Thoroughly investigate allegations of intimidation aimed at suppressing free speech or freedom of the press;

 

3)  Strongly encourage the Central People's Government to state unequivocally and publicly that it does not and will not tolerate actions by anyone on the mainland, including officials at whatever level, that impinge on the rights guaranteed to Hong Kong people by the Basic Law;

 

4)  Ensure that any work on a national security bill is undertaken openly, and with full and comprehensive consultation in order not to repeat the damaging and divisive mistakes of the past;

 

5)  Defend the principle stipulated in the Basic Law that any legislation passed to implement Article 23 must be enacted by Hong Kong acting on its own, and oppose any efforts aimed at encouraging the Central Government to enact national legislation that would be extended to Hong Kong; and,

 

6)  Work towards a more harmonious and inclusive society that tolerates and protects differences of opinion, especially opinions not widely held.

 

We believe that it is critical to Hong Kong's position as a center of information exchange that all possible steps are taken to safeguard free expression and a free press. Anything short of full support would have serious consequences for Hong Kong's role as a gateway between China and the world, with damaging consequences for the economy and the people's livelihood.

 

 

Hong Kong Journalists Association

Hong Kong Press Photographers Association

Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong

Society of Publishers in Asia