Academic journal article China Perspectives

Media and Politics in Hong Kong: A Decade after the Handover(1)

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Media and Politics in Hong Kong: A Decade after the Handover(1)

Article excerpt

What major challenges have journalists and media organizations faced since 1997? How have the media responded to and sometimes shaped po- litical changes in Hong Kong? What is the status of press freedom in the city? This article discusses these questions by analyzing the interplay among the national, the interna- tional, and the local. We argue that re-nationalization, inter- nationalization, and localization are the three primary processes of social and political development in post-han- dover Hong Kong, and that the interplay among these forces has shaped the transformation of the Hong Kong media and their relationship with politics. The following discussion be- gins with the explication of each of these three processes and how they impinge on the media. We then discuss how the three processes are intertwined.

Re-nationalization: Recogniz- ing the New Power Center

By re-nationalization, we refer to the process of the political, economic, and cultural reintegration between Hong Kong and China over the past twenty years. This process can be traced back to 1984 when the Sino-British Joint Declaration sparked off a series of societal and political changes. Most importantly, a dual power structure was instantiated in Hong Kong in the transition period. Within the structure, the bal- ance of power gradually shifted from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China as time went on. The British colonial government had to consult the Chinese government and even seek its approval on important political and admin- istrative policies in Hong Kong. At the same time, the Chi- nese government began to co-opt local elites to facilitate the smooth transfer of power. Many local elites were invited to participate in the drafting of the Basic Law and/or later to participate in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Re- gion (HKSAR) Preparatory Committee. Some were even invited to become members of the Chinese People's Politi- cal Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and National Peo- ple's Congress.

Many of the appointed local elites were media owners. For example, Louis Cha was a member of the Basic Law Draft- ing Committee in the 1980s, at which time he was also the owner of Ming Pa ((2). This practice of political appointment as a form of co-optation has continued since 1997. Sally Aw was appointed a member of the CPPCC in 1998, at which time she was the owner of the Sing Tao Group. Ma Ching Kwan of Oriental Daily and Yang Lan of Sing Pao Daily were both appointed in 2003. Other media tycoons who have received political appointments include Peter Woo (Cable TV), Ricky Wong (HK Broadband), Charles Ho (Sing Tao), and Chan Wing Ki (Asia Television Ltd.).

It is widely assumed that the central government is interested in silencing oppositional voices in Hong Kong. However, given the promises of "one country, two systems" and a "high degree of autonomy," overt forms of control and sup- pression are likely to backfire. Hence, co-optation remains the primary means by which the central government exerts political influence. In other words, political and economic re- wards are given to members of the Hong Kong media in ex- change for their good will and support((3).

From the perspective of the media owners, cooperating with China is likely to benefit their (media and non-media) business interests. Media owners understand that developing guanxi with the Chinese government is beneficial to their participation in the market in mainland China. Some of them may also be- lieve that owning a media organization will enhance their bar- gaining power when dealing with Chinese officials.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong newspapers have gradually been taken from the hands of "traditional news people" by profit- oriented corporations. One of the major acquisitions in re- cent years was the takeover of the ownership of the Sing Tao Group by Charles Ho, a tobacco businessman and CPPCC Standing Committee member. In 2006, PCCW chairman Richard Li Tzar-kai acquired 50% of the owner- ship of the Hong Kong Economic Journalfrom veteran jour- nalist and famous editorial writer Lam Shan-muk. …

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