Benjamin Li
Mar 21, 2014

Attacks on Hong Kong journalists raise concern

HONG KONG – With two violent attacks on Hong Kong journalists receiving global news coverage, the international community has joined local journalists and media watchers in asking whether media owners and the government are doing enough to protect press freedom.

Photo credit: HKJA
Photo credit: HKJA

On Wednesday, while the February 26 meat-cleaver attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau was still fresh in most people’s minds, four masked men attacked two executives of Hong Kong Morning News with iron bars in the middle of the day in Tsim Sha Tsui.

“It is very worrying for the security and press freedom in Hong Kong,” Emily Lau Wai-hing (劉慧卿), chairwoman of the Democratic Party and herself a former journalist, told Campaign Asia-Pacific. The crimes and the resulting coverage obviously have a negative impact on Hong Kong people, she added.

Shirley YAM (任美貞), vice chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalist Association (HKJA) and a columnist for The South China Morning Post, echoed Lau in saying the attacks are a threat to the city's press freedom. And Clement YK So, professor in the School of Journalism and Communications at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that “using such violence and bloody attack on the media often only happened in the Third World or countries with totalitarian rules."

The lack of media owners speaking up after the attacks is also shocking, Lau said. "They may just send their staff to join the demonstration, as if they themselves don’t care,” she said.

Lau also condemned the Hong Kong Government for not taking the matter seriously enough. “There are over a dozen similar attacks that happened in the past decade, either to high-profile media figures, journalists or newspapers’ offices," she said. "But the police just could not find the attackers, and those cases just fade out without a trace.”

On Thursday the police charged two men in Kevin Lau's attack. Local media reported that the men, both 37, were members of the Shui Fong triad criminal gang and were paid HK$1 million ($129,000) each for the attack.

 

Kevin Lau in hospital. Photo credit: HKJA

 

"We are pleased to hear of the arrest relating to Kevin Lau's case," Yam said. "We are, however, disappointed with the fact that most of the attacks remain unresolved.”

Yam said Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung did not help the situation when he commented soon after this week's assault that he saw no direct link with the Kevin Lau case. “We are surprised by his remarks, which risk misleading the public and his team into believing that the attack is for personal causes, for which the Commissioner has offered no explanation.”

Yam said the HKJA has been asking for a meeting with the commissioner to get an update on other unresolved cases, but have received no response so far. 

So said it would be difficult for media owners to protect their staff, as the attacks have happened without warning and in public.

One potential positive result from the attacks may be increased solidarity in the community. A demonstration on press freedom on March 2 drew 13,000 participants according to the event organiser, the Press Coalition Against Violence. Many of those demonstrating were journalism students and young journalists, some holding eye-catching banners with slogans such as, ‘You can’t kill us all!’

 

Photo credit: HKJA

 

"Of course it is a good thing when the public and college students care and support anti-violence act against journalists," he said, adding that some media owners have joined the demonstrations as well.

For Hong Kong to continue to function as an international financial centre, Yam said, three pillars are vital: A free press, a free flow of information and the rule of law. “How the other two can continue without a free press is hard to imagine," she said. "An example is that most fund houses continue to have their base in Hong Kong instead of Shanghai, though the latter is much closer to the action.”

So also reiterated that press freedom is crucial for Hong Kong to monitor what the Hong Kong Government and big corporations are doing, and to monitor fairness in society, as a level-playing field is the backbone of Hong Kong’s business and economy. "With the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ constitutional policy, freedom of speech is assured," he said. "We could not reduce or change that."

Wong Yan Lung, the former Secretary for Justice of Hong Kong, spoke eloquently about the Kevin Lau's attack when delivering an acceptance speech at the University of Hong Kong on 18 March. “The alarm bell is ringing loud, culminating in an equally intense determination to ensure that none of our cherished common values will be impaired," he said. "When violence strikes to subdue legitimate rights, it is striking at the very fabric of our civil society, and our community has rightly responded with united and strong condemnation."


Past incidents involving high-profile journalists, radio hosts and media owners

  • February 2014: The former editor of Ming Pao Daily Kevin Lau Chun-to, whose abrupt dismissal in January sparked protests over press freedom, is in critical condition after being hacked by an assailant with a meat cleaver.
  • February 2014: Commercial Radio fired outspoken government critic and radio talk show host Lee Wai-ling abruptly.
  • August 2013: Two men smashed the windscreen of a car being driven by Centaline Property Agency founder Shih Wing-ching, who also owns free newspaper AM730. Shih claimed in local media that the attack may have been related to a column he writes.
  • June 2013: A car backed into the Hong Kong home of Jimmy Lai, founder and chairman of Next Media Group. A threatening message was left on the driveway in the form of an axe and a knife.
  • December 2011: RTHK receives criticism for using ‘programme reform’ as an excuse to sack two popular radio hosts, Ng Chi-sum and Robert Chow. Chow has worked for RTHK for 12 years and Ng for seven years . Both are known for their outspoken style.
  • August 1998: On his way to work, Albert Cheng King-hon, host of a popular current affairs talk show on Commercial Radio, was attacked outside the Commercial Radio headquarters. He suffered eight slashes and severe damage to his hands and spent two months in hospital. To date, nobody has been arrested for the attack.

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