Freewheeling Journalists Fret over New Rulers Communist China Sends Warning to Hong Kong Scribes Series: Handing over Hong Kong, a Year-Long Occasional Series

Article excerpt

Radio reporter Mak Yin Ting says that sometimes she has been tempted to quit journalism. The hours are long and salaries are low compared with other opportunities in this busy territory.

And like other journalists here, she has one more reason to question whether hers was a wise career choice: In less than one year, Hong Kong will revert to Communist China, where the concept of freedom of expression is, to say the least, very different from that traditionally enjoyed under the British administration.

Ms. Mak says she has never been tempted to quit, or emigrate, because of the impending handover. "I treasure the freedoms ... and I want to stay and fight for them," she says. Recently elected chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), Mak will be on the front lines. A veteran journalist, Mak says she feels it's important that experienced journalists, like herself, stay since newcomers may more readily adopt any new restrictions. In theory, there should be relatively few restrictions on what newspapers print since Hong Kong's post-1997 constitution guarantees freedom of the press. But like everything else connected with the July '97 transition, there are anxieties over how these guarantees will be implemented. For example, the same document permits the new government to adopt laws "to safeguard state secrets," which on the mainland are rather loosely interpreted. A Chinese reporter, Xi Yang, working for the Hong Kong daily Ming Pao was jailed for 12 years in 1994 for stealing state secrets - defined as bank interest rates and gold reserve policy. The fact that he was put in prison, rather than deported to Hong Kong, was widely seen as a warning to Hong Kong journalists not to become too inquisitive about China's affairs. This year, several Chinese leaders have made statements that have caused disquiet. Foreign Minister Qian Qichen was quoted in a recent article as saying that reporters should not spread rumors or make personal attacks on Chinese leaders. "It's a way of the Chinese setting the ground rules," Mak says. …