According to a friend of a friend of a friend, Chief Executive Carrie Lam recently hosted a casual, off-the-record gathering for selected members of the press. At one stage, an executive from TVB angrily banged the table and told Carrie that his organization would boycott government press conferences if her administration accredited and admitted online media. She asked him to inform his boss that it would be fine with her if TVB didn’t come to press conferences.
The government’s ‘official’ lame reason for barring on-line media from briefings is that dangerous radicals could pose as amateur non-profit reporters and disrupt the proceedings with protests and stunts. A more credible lame reason would be that the government simply wants to protect the establishment cronies who now own most of Hong Kong’s mainstream press – just as it outlaws Uber to help Beijing loyalist taxi-licence owners.
Then there is a serious, non-lame reason: the unpopular and incompetent government wishes to avoid scrutiny by independent media who might ask awkward questions.
Lurking in the background here we have Beijing’s string-pullers in the Liaison Office. If the government does recognize digital media, it will because the Mainland officials aren’t too fussed about who gets a namby-pamby press-pass. The way they are arranging things in Hong Kong, it seems only a matter of time before we start to get top-down censorship (on ‘anti-sedition’ or other legal pretexts).
One other obvious reason the government seems to be inching towards recognizing digital news outlets is that eventually there won’t be any other sort. TVB opposes change because it wants to protect its web-based platform – not its old on-air broadcast channel – from competition.
Meanwhile, independent voices seem to be vanishing from local English-language media. The South China Morning Post has apparently disposed of Shirley Yam for covering Beijing elites’ stashes of wealth, and Jake Van Der Kamp has been silent for three weeks since a column that mentioned the collapse of the Communist regime (and has no link on the his page at the paper).
All this is a long way of getting round to declaring the weekend open – with a plug for Hong Kong Free Press’s appeal for a new home…