Freedom of Expression On Cliff's Edge

It is about the public’s scorn over the sudden termination of two popular columns in the Hong Kong Economic Journal written by a virtuoso commentator 陳雲 (Chan Wan), who is known for his caustic commentaries on social, cultural and political issues. In the same light, there has also been a public uproar about the proposed ending of a satirical RTHK TV talk show called “頭條新聞” (“Headline News”) hosted by veteran critic 吳志森 (Ng Chi Sum). Both events smack of an ever narrowing space for freedom of speech, even before Article 23 is back on the table.

In Chan’s case, he admitted that he had been asked to terminate his two 11-year old columns in HKEJ two days after a piece of his that lambasted the property tycoons appeared in the newspaper, and that he had anticipated such an ending. The implied reason for the sacking is that the newspaper can’t afford to lose advertising revenue doled out by the property magnates.

Here’s a video rendition of that vitriolic article (the contents are read out in Cantonese):-

In brief, the offending piece (offending or not depends on who reads it) is about the irony of property tycoons making charitable donations on one hand while on the other they are still causing harm to Hong Kong people’s spirit (through squeezing the last cent out of them and robbing them of job opportunities through monopolies etc.). As a result of the tycoons’ evil deeds, Hong Kong has been turned into a place like hell, full of soulless zombies. The general message is, in Buddhism parlance, that if you want to do any good deed, you must first have refrained from doing evil and have repented your sins with a genuine heart.

Almost immediately after the censure was revealed, the online forums ran wild with netizens’ condemnation of the newspaper’s sacking of their favorite columnist at the alleged behest of the property cartel.

As for Ng, rumors were rife that his TV talk show (which uses parody to critique on current issues) would soon be cut shortly after a new CEO took over control of RTHK following government’s decision to take back the station under its wing again. Perhaps due to a public outcry against such a move, the show has been given a renewal for ten more sessions.

Before things had a chance to quiet down, there came the news that a Foreword that Ng had written for a new book by Chan, which carries on with the excoriation of the property cartel forcing press self-censorship at their whim, has been arbitrarily withdrawn by the book publisher.

A recent Yazhou Zhoukan article revealed that a newspaper group had lost tens of millions in advertising revenue for daring to put out a report that tarnished the image of a certain property developer. According to the article, property advertising income makes up 30 to 50 percent of a major newspaper organization’s total advertising revenue. As such, large property developers often use the tactic of withdrawing property ads to exert their overbearing control over press freedom.

Here’s a link to the article:-

Ng said in a press interview that in terms of freedom of expression, Hong Kong society is well past the stage of “frogs being cooked in slow-heated water without knowing it” (“溫水煮蛙”) – it is actually in the stage where “flood water has risen to the eyebrow level” (“水浸眼眉”).