Beijing’s pathetic tycoon-media clampdown

With exquisite timing, Hong Kong’s Commercial Radio fires talk-show host Li Wei-ling at the same time that the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists accuses Beijing of clamping down on press freedom in the city (and in Taiwan). This comes after a series of rumored or actual events suggesting that Chinese officials in Hong Kong are actively pressuring media proprietors to gag anti-government voices.

Asia Sentinel’s recent coverage here and here gives a lengthy list of examples. They include the failure of HKTV to get a broadcasting licence last year, personnel reshuffles in various papers and stations, and allegations of advertisers’ boycotts of dissenting news outlets. This sort of thing goes back years, but it seems to have become a regular pattern in the last six months or so.

In the Mainland, state censorship and control is the rule. They throw people in prison for saying the government should obey the constitution, arrest them up for complaining about corruption, and charge them with concocted tax-and-hooker offences for writing snarky Weibo posts – indeed, they are pretty much killing off Weibo. They have even criminalized the writing of unacceptable online rumours that are re-posted more than 500 times. (Singapore is no less pathetic in its own little way, requiring the licensing of ‘news’ websites.)

None of this paranoid despotism happens in Hong Kong or Taiwan. The CPJ obviously uses quite demanding criteria when ranking nations by press freedom, as even the US is plummeting down the table this year to 46th position, as if set to match North Korea by 2018. In Hong Kong’s case, the CPJ is not measuring press freedom (or the lack of it) so much as the freedom of media owners to shoeshine Beijing by curbing their outlets’ negative coverage of the government.

The acquisition of the local news industry by pro-Beijing tycoons is an old story, going back to the Communists’ co-option of our feudal-capitalist class in the 1980s. The tycoon burdens himself with a politically stressful and commercially disastrous business as a pitiful sign of fealty. He must damage his outlets’ credibility as and when required to show how loyal he is (or hurt his conglomerate’s sales figures by refraining from advertising in Apple Daily).

Recently heightened interference in these print and radio operations by China’s locally based enforcers is probably in line with the rising degree of meddling in other areas (getting splintered pro-establishment political groupings to consolidate, for example). This probably reflects fear and desperation about Occupy Central’s imminent CIA-backed coup, plus Chairman Xi Jinping’s stepped-up control-freakery, plus maybe plain old empire-building or power struggles in Beijing’s local Liaison Office.

The murky officials behind the scenes can’t seriously expect such self-censorship to enable more effective government. At best, it invites ridicule; at worst, it builds up anti-Beijing sentiment in the community. Oh, and it damages the Big Lychee’s precious international reputation even more than higher stamp duty on property speculators. (A free clue: if you really want to improve the administration’s image, replace the crap policies with good ones.)

RTHK Radio 3 this morning interviewed the HK Journalists Association’s Shirley Yam, thus sparing listeners the usual screeching from reporters-turned-politicians Emily Lau and Claudia Mo. Their blood-curdling warnings of doom should be kept in reserve for the day the government really looks set to shut down newsrooms (and banks, and courts) and arrest people for conveying awkward factual information and expressing unsupportive opinions. So far, the tyrants strike fear into spineless newspaper-owning moguls, not the rest of us.

We are told that the decline of traditional media in the face of on-line alternatives is a bad thing, but it has an undeniable democratizing and liberating side to it (as with book publishing). Freedom of speech doesn’t require a government licence or a job at a tycoon’s dud subsidiary. Li Wei-ling is at liberty to speak – even say ‘crap’ – on streaming audio or on YouTube. It’s not as convenient or accessible as Commercial Radio (though the TuneIn app on my Galaxy brings me thousands of real-time stations from around the planet – two in Bhutan – anywhere in Hong Kong, anytime). If people really want to listen to her, they can, and it’s getting easier all the time. Of course, she might not get paid for it. You can’t have everything.

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18 Responses to Beijing’s pathetic tycoon-media clampdown

  1. nulle says:

    beginning to wonder whether CY Leung wants an excuse to declare a state of emergency so PLA can throw out “the 50 years of stability (no change)” deal (and activate Article 23)they made back in 1997.

  2. maugrim says:

    Claudia Mo (is that Mo as in no, or in hairy I wonder), isn’t that bad and has least had experience in the area. Beijing has other things it should be worried about, such as a possible hard landing of its economy.

  3. Sir Crispin IV says:

    Back during the swine flu outbreak when the Metropark Wan Chai was quarantined, I was interviewed by a friend who was on scene reporting for TVB. I asked him why my interview never aired, and he said the producers wouldn’t show it because I was too critical of the government’s typical overly hysterical granny response.

  4. Gumshoe says:

    My rent is running out soon, anyway. Maybe it’s better to just get out now.

  5. Regislea says:

    Nulle – Not wishing to seem paranoid, but I’ve long thought that the steady escalation in controversy on issues like freedom of speech, police and participants violence at demonstrations, etc., is part of a plan to eventually get the PLA out on to the streets when our wonderful police force can no longer cope.

    This coveys the idea much better than I ever could:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX_d_vMKswE

  6. Sid says:

    I do like it when you address serious issues, and as usual you manage to incisively reach the parts that others…

    But I’m not in entire greement with your: “Their blood-curdling warnings of doom should be kept in reserve for the day the government really looks set to shut down newsrooms (and banks, and courts)”.

    It’s the boiling frog syndrome, by its very nature insidious/sneaky/relentless/merciless. HKU went before the handover. HSBC try to be more royalist than the emperor. Cathay P don’t know which way to turn. RTHK’s manhood is being aggressed. DHL and Fedex went local a long time ago. The AFCD and Lands Dept have to beg people to cooperate.

    The media, and courts, and police, and ICAC, are increasingly undergoing the death by the thousand cuts, the slow torturing drip-drip of sniping, ad hominem attacks, heavy-handed innuendo, strained finances, circumvention, superceding, devalorising, making irrelevant.

    That online and self-publishing remain free for the moment is really neither here nor there. Remember Microsoft are now actively collaborating to globally sanitise Free Tibet, Tiananmen, the Great Leap Forward, the Hundred Flowers. Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

  7. reductio says:

    @Regislea

    Interesting. Gets me thinking that perhaps we will start to see PLA spokesmen (spokespeople?) coming out with “the PLA is ready to help our Hong Kong compatriots as necessary” kind of guff. Get the populace prepared to seeing our boys in green aiding our boys in blue.

  8. One thing you can’t do if you’re shunted to e-journalism is gain access to HK government press resources beyond what’s made available to the general public. Charles Mok asked a question in LegCo recently about gaining press credentials for e-journalists for govt press functions and the govt said HK’s print/electronic resources are plenty diverse and it’d be too complicated to give press credentials to something like House News.

    And in a sure sign of press collapse, NY Times runs an article on the landing tax and quotes Mary Ma of the Sub-Standard.

  9. nulle says:

    @Regislea,

    I am afraid what you stated already planned and standing by for execution,

    http://therealnewshk.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/pla-plans-to-suppress-occupy-central-movement-as-hk-police/

    what I surprised is that the expat community isn’t speaking out or doing anything about it.

    what could be even worse is that PLA soldier and agents could be in HK already in plain clothes…

  10. Stephen says:

    Think a few responders are getting a little carried away – Article 23, PLA etc – utter nonsense.

    China plays the long game and what is happening is the continuous dripping away of our freedoms to make Hong Kong indistinguishable from China. I have long lamented at the state of the PCMP, having to wince at TVB and I have long since given up on radio. So if the world sees Hong Kong through the eyes of the English media everything is peachy?

    The “election” of the next CE is a red line for the CCP it has to be controlled and it will. Hong Kong’s gutless administration, avarice loving tycoons and fair weather establishment are all seemingly willing advocates and will do the CCP’s bidding. But life goes on. Emily will still be screeching in 2018 for true democracy, the Neo-Dems will still be scuffling amongst themselves for their version of the same.

    It is not quite as smooth as China envisaged it back in colonial times and things have got a little more overt under CY but in the end they’ve got there; neutered press, more democracy (than under the Brits) mandarin speaking and one country.

  11. Regislea says:

    Nulle – I’m not sure what the expat community could do. It’s always struck me that any expats with any influence were always in thrall to the tycoons.

    That leaves the international media, but I suspect that cases such as alleged sexual harassment by minor celebs in the 1960s (UK) and/or Beyonce’s tush are much more important to them.

  12. Headache says:

    I’m not here to add anything today but just to agree with Sid and Stephen.

  13. Sid says:

    The Chinese method is minimal force but maximum venom. The PLA will come out if they have to, but “the” HK people are, if you except the NT-ites, the new immigrants, the triad-intimidated and the rabid nationalists, traditionally apolitical, peace-loving, to a certain extent spineless, pragmatic, wrapped up in their own cosy worlds — in a word middle-class with an interest in the status quo, and thus easily cowed.

    CY and his lackeys have plenty of tricks up their sleeves if they want to before taking extreme measures. They can, for a start, slowly but steadily squeeze any instutions and media still standing — or just give up and do nothing (which is what you might say they are doing right now).

    The democrats are not that stupid. They know full well that even if they’re entirely in the right, just continuing to cry in the wilderness is a losing battle. The only hope for HK is in recent changes in public mood, the revolution in attitudes towards Peking and towards the mainlanders who want to drag us down to their level — that or revolution in China, but even then…

  14. The Regulator says:

    The Government has published “An Effective Resolution Regime for Financial Institutions in Hong Kong” as a consultation document. In para 233 it proposes new law to permit “bail-in”. In para 238 it proposes new law to permit “temporary public ownership”.

  15. colonelkurtz says:

    @The Regulator

    Yes, and? What dictatorship of the proletariat by consultation document?

  16. @nulle – not “could be”, but almost certainly are.

    @Regislea – re “expats with any influence being in thrall to the tycoons”, is Allen Zeman still classified as an expat now he’s got a Chinese passport?

  17. Regislea says:

    Private Beach – Expatriate (Expat – informal shortened form) – a person who lives outside there native country – OED.

    You choose – it’s a free country. No wait . . .

  18. Sid says:

    Regislea, I don’t think you would call Schwarzenegger, Kissinger, Giscard d”Estaing or Hitler expatriates. Nor perhaps so-called BBCs and ABCs in Hong Kong.

    The problem here is that such terms are blindly applied on the basis of skin colour (provided it’s pale-ish). Unlike recent China immigrants, the HK-born foreign devils are rarely able to represent their native land in the Olympics or stand for Chief Executive.

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