Speech on Safeguarding Editorial Independence and Autonomy

Hong Kong is a free society. People have been supportive to freedom of press and the media. Unfortunately, there is too much negative news on the media recently including replacement of Chief Editor of Ming Pao Daily and record low in rating of creditability since reunification. Thus, its long term development is a cause for concern. Today’s Motion is about the media and, in my view media credibility deserves critical review.
Not long ago, School of Journalism and Communications of The Chinese University of Hong Kong published findings of a survey on media creditability. Overall rating fell to record low since 1997. Researchers commented that the decline reflected performance. Certain media are not impartial in reports and commentaries. For instance, some use sensational approach; some are politically biased. Moreover, misreporting occurs from time to time.
Incidentally, Public Opinions Program of The University of Hong Kong also conducted a survey last October. Despite impacts of the incident of new free terrestrial television license, 53 percent of respondents were still positive on press freedom in Hong Kong. Only 28 percent were dissatisfied. The survey also found 53 percent of respondents considered that the media did either misuse or abuse press freedom.
In fact, media creditability falling to record low does not necessarily relate to press freedom. However, findings of these surveys and realities show that the decline is more related to media performance.
For years, some members of the media have not been serious about the principle of impartiality. They are fond of exaggerated or cynical reporting. They lack objectivity and neutrality in editing. They may even use disturbing or illegitimate means to gather information. Moreover, some programs hosts turn dialogue into monologue, and some are even hostile in attitude. Thus, these programs would lose impartiality and neutrality. In light of these unscrupulous reporting, falling rating in media public polls is understandable.
Many friends of mine tell me that they found such reporting, in print and voice, noisy but interesting at the outset. However, one would be affected by repeatedly negative sentiments and become self-centered. Apart from oneself, all others are wrong, the government and society alike. One might become critical or hostile to family and friends. Therefore, many people now simply choose to see no “evil” and hear no “evil”.
Many learned colleagues speak on freedom of the press today. However, not many realize that freedom is only one of the twins. The other is called ethics or moral of the press. Where there is press freedom, there must be also ethics to check freedom. If only press freedom is upheld in isolation, then sky would be the limit. Once there were malpractices, the media would turn themselves into demon. Press freedom is public tool. It is a sharp weapon in the hand of ethical journalists, but never a shield to protect those who are unethical.
Of course, the latter is only the minority. Most media workers that I know are dedicated. They are not only professional and resolute in reporting but also conscious of ethics. They deserve our support. Actually, they are long in working hours but disproportionately low in income. Moreover, new media are emerging to threaten traditional media. Thus, the media and their workers deserve more attention of society.
Let me close with remarks on the Ming Pao incident. Of course, I support freedom of the press. As Ming Pao reader for almost 40 years, I wish its established editorial principles, including balanced, full and neutral reporting might persist. For instance, criticisms on the Government should be reported; so are difficulties facing the Government. As such, readers would get a full picture of the incident. In my view, this is precisely the traditional value that Ming Pao is supposed to be proud of. In fact, the majority of Ming Pao readers are middle class, who are rational and unbiased. They are looking for uncensored reports rather than sanitized reports.
At this juncture, many editorial and reporting staffs have come forward, and their stance shows that concerns are genuine. That said, may I remind that daily newspaper is still a business concern. It operates on commercial principles, but it also has social responsibilities. From business viewpoint, the boss has every right to appoint senior staff of the media. Any public concern should be confined to whether the successor is capable of delivering social responsibilities so accorded. If he lets people down, the public would have good cause to criticize. If guilty verdict were handed down before any offence is ever committed, however, it wouldn’t make sense, would it? After all, if the boss were wrong, readers would turn their back and he would be compelled to rectify. Thus, in my view, it is too early to jump to any conclusion.

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