Attacking the press

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Attacking the press

With the shocking shutdown Thursday of Apple Daily, a leading pro-democracy newspaper, freedom of the press has died in Hong Kong. The daily was unable to withstand heavy pressure from Beijing over its persistent criticism of the governments in both Hong Kong and Beijing. After reporting on the so-called Umbrella Revolution and opposing a draconian anti-subversion law for the territory, the daily printed its last edition at daybreak on June 24.

The Hong Kong authorities dispatched 500 police officers to raid the newsroom of the paper last week and have arrested its founder, editor in chief, and chief editorial writer. The Hong Kong government froze the paper’s assets worth approximately 18 million Hong Kong dollar ($2.3 million) to compel the company to shut down. That is unthinkable in any system that claims to offer freedom of expression.

The newspaper — which has criticized the Chinese government for its overbearing governance and championed democracy in Hong Kong over the past 26 years — must have been a major irritant to Beijing. As a result, China has set an example to show opponents what happens if they choose to find fault with the way Beijing rules the territory. Hong Kong’s news media will likely succumb to self-censorship before publishing or broadcasting their news.

We hope Beijing stops this oppression of the freedom of speech, which shakes the very foundations of democracy. After waiting for three hours to grab the last edition of the paper from kiosks, Hong Kongers reportedly bought two to ten copies each. The newspaper reportedly published 1 million copies, ten times more than its usual print-run. China must realize that even if it can stop the Apple Daily from publishing newspapers, it cannot shut down the people’s desire for liberty.

China’s crackdown on the press is not unimaginable here. The outlines announced last week by a special media reform committee of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) is full of poisonous clauses, including a provision that would allow a pro-government committee to demand media outlets change their standards for posting news articles on websites. Such a move is apparently aimed at blocking anti-government news.

Other proposals: News organizations must pay fines up to three times the damages claimed if they report fake news. Excessive punitive damages violate the principle of proportionality stipulated by our Constitution. Even the liberal People’s Coalition for Media Reform warned of the possibility of abuse. If the DP presses ahead with these proposals, the government cannot condemn China’s suppression of the press.
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