Monthly Archives: July 2014

POLITICS – Exclusive: ‘A Storm is Coming’ – What Really Happened to House News 5

Little Eye on Big Media, Hong KongGuest Post: House News, a leading ‘Huffington Post-style’ pro-democracy news site disappeared from the internet suddenly last weekend. Its archives were also deleted – but was it really about money? Ex-columnist Evan Fowler reveals the truth about its demise, in what is yet another blow for press freedom in Hong Kong.

The House News shut suddenly last Saturday. At lunch I was online checking news. Then came a cryptic message from an editor at House. It read, “Storm has arrived. Your writing must not stop”. I immediately checked online. Instead of a news page there was only a written statement from Tony Tsoi Ho Tung saying that House News has closed.Making allowances for translation, Tony began by stating his “fear”. He wrote of Hong Kong having changed; of pressure and surveillance; and of a wave or atmosphere of “white terror”.

He also stated his need to travel to the Mainland for business, and the deepening sense of fear he felt each time he crosses the border. It is a feeling he “can’t articulate to those not in his position”. Unusually, he chose to mention his family within this context of fear. He writes of their fears for him and of an increasing hostile atmosphere. It was a fear felt not by his person alone, but by his family.

ACTIVISM – Record Turnout for Gaza Protest as 500 Rally Against Israeli Actions

There have been many protests against Israeli in Hong Kong in recent years. Whether it be the attack on the aid flotilla, the bombing of Gaza or other human rights abuses, most protests attract a hard core of about 20-50 protesters.

Gaza hong kong protest

However, on Sunday around 500 people took to the streets in sweltering heat and rain to protest the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza strip. The demonstration was organised by two activists on social media with just 48 hours notice.

POLITICS – How Robert Chow’s Pro-Gov’t ‘Silent Majority’ Groups Lost the Plot

Guest Post: Last week, adopting the language of the left, the pro-Beijing ‘Silent Majority’ group founded the ‘Alliance for Peace & Democracy’ in a response to the peaceful July 1st march. In this essay, Evan Fowler recalls his meeting last year with convenor Robert Chow, and says that the choice is not between radical protest and constructive engagement, but between believing Hong Kong people deserve a say in their future and believing they do not.

Last year I was at a gathering at which Robert Chow, founder of Silent Majority and the recently convened Alliance for Peace and Democracy, outlined his case against the Occupy Central Movement. He began by stressing that he agreed with the democrats wish for political reform, but that he believed that the threat of Occupy Central was confrontational and would only antagonise Beijing. However, from this point on he lost the plot.

Faulty maths.
First there were repeated attempts to misuse data. He claimed that Silent Majority represented 75% of Hong Kong people. He quoted this figure from a HKU poll that concluded only 25% of people at the time believed Occupy Central would “succeed”. From this, Robert read this as meaning 75% of Hong Kong people are not only against the movement, but support Silent Majority. These figures were challenged, including by members of the survey team. Yet Robert continues to publicly and deliberately misrepresent these figures.

Second, there was the fear-mongering. 10,000 people occupying Central, he claimed, would destroy the city. He claimed businesses would relocate and that we would see a mass flight of capital. Only then did he turn his eloquence to portraying the horrific social affects: a city brought to a standstill as roads are closed; our transport networks overloaded; rioting, looting and anarchy as our police and public services are overwhelmed. Images of pregnant mothers unable to be served at hospitals and children unable to attend school – all calculated to hit an emotional chord.

Tom Holland, the former SCMP economics columnist who was present at the gathering (and who has since left the Post), addressed the business case brilliantly when he pointed out that not only Central but the whole city completely shuts down during a typhoon, and yet, a point he stressed any economists will know, it has no effect on our economy as extra demand is generated immediately prior or immediately after such events. Capital, he reminded us, was drawn to a balance between opportunity and risk. Hong Kong’s advantages, from our Rule of Law to Freedom of Expression, are in fact what Occupy protesters are seeking to defend.

Silent Majority for Hong Kong,

Robert Chow (right) with a member of the Silent Majority for Hong Kong.

HISTORY – Evolution of the Hong Kong Skyline – a Visual History 20

Below is a brief visual history of how the Hong Kong skyline developed over the decades.

Pre-1869 painting of Hong Kong harbour

Pre-1869 painting via RGS-IBG image / E. L. Watling

1880s – Beginning with a rare shot of the harbour from the 19th century – the same decade in which the Star Ferry became operational.

 Hong Kong harbour

via New York Times

 Hong Kong harbour

1890, click to enlarge

1900s – Next, a quaint postcard from 1906 (via…

 Hong Kong harbour


1910s – The CBD, gradually creeping up The Peak, was then named Victoria City. There was no light show back then (but click here for a photo of the harbour at night, some 106 years ago!)…

NEWS – HSBC Warns Investors Off HK Over Occupy Central as Bishop Mocks Protesters 3

After boycotting the city’s pro-democracy media, HSBC has warned investors to sell stock in Hong Kong in light of the hypothetical ‘Occupy Central’ sit-in.

HSBC Hong Kong

Yesterday, the British bank, which has extensive interests in the mainland, downgraded Hong Kong in its “Global Equity Insights Quarterly” to ‘underweight’.

There remains no evidence the economy would be affected by the, as yet unconfirmed, pro-democracy protest. During the July 1st rally, the Hang Seng index rose 1.6%, its biggest jump since early May. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange stated earlier this year that it expects any acts of civil disobedience to have a minimal impact on trade.

NEWS – HK Journalists Association Forms ‘Name & Shame’ Self-Censorship Watchdog

Little Eye on Big Media, Hong Kong

A multi-part series

‘Little Eye on Big Media’ Special Series: The Hong Kong Journalists Association has declared the past year in Hong Kong to be the “darkest for press freedom for several decades“. Their 2014 annual report, entitled ‘Press Freedom Under Siege’, was released today. It laments the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong as political tension increases between Beijing and the territory.

It also announced the formation of a ‘Self-censorship Monitoring Committee’ to act as a watchdog and investigate complaints of editorial interference by local media managers. The panel, composed of journalists, academics and lawyers, will name-and-shame outlets where incidents have been confirmed in order to increase public awareness of such cases.

Complaints may be submitted by reporters, editors, photographers, commentators or columnists within 12 months of an incident arising.

The report notes the brutal attack on ex-Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau, the sacking of an outspoken talk-show cost Li Wei-Ling, advertising boycotts of pro-democracy titles and the government’s refusal to issue HKTV with a free-to-air licence.

It also notes how Beijing has lectured media representatives on the need to increase their coverage of the anti-Occupy Central movement.

Hong Kong Journalists Association

POLITICS – SCMP: A Much-Needed Institution Missing A Golden Opportunity 8

Little Eye on Big Media, Hong Kong

A multi-part series

‘Little Eye on Big Media’ Special Series: [Part 2: Op-ed, click here for part 1] There is no other newspaper on Earth better positioned than the South China Morning Post to provide coverage of this century’s most important story – China’s rapid rise. Historically, the Post has been the ‘newspaper of record’ for Hong Kong and is better placed than anyone else to observe and analyse Beijing’s growing power and influence. It has over 110 years of experience, is located in the one corner of China that does not restrict the press, and has a newsroom full of multi-lingual journalistic talent to call upon.

Weak spots
The newspaper has, rightly, bagged many awards for excellence in reporting but, like any other media group, has certain pressure points. Critically, for the SCMP – its weakness is often China. The SCMP’s Malaysian owners have extensive business interests across the mainland and stakes in Yurun Food Group, Shangri-la Hotels, Kerry Properties and several transport companies. This, alongside suspicions of direct – or indirect – pressure from Beijing and ambitions to expand across the border, has led to a well-documented watering-down of its criticism of China.

Whilst superb critiques of mainland affairs are still printed every week, any irregularities are alarming as Hong Kong has dropped 27 places since 2010 to 61st on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. It sits at 74th on the Freedom House ranking, now deemed ‘partly free’, behind Mali. Earlier this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists produced a special report this year on Hong Kong’s “cancerous” spate of self-censorship, making reference to the SCMP. Amidst violent attackscyber attacksboycotts and threats, we may be left with only the Apple Daily, a tabloid, as the last paper willing to scrutinise Beijing.

South China Morning Post (SCMP) covers

Worth saving. SCMP through the decades.

Wasted opportunity? 
But the SCMP has a choice and, perhaps, a golden business opportunity. It could leverage the talent, reputation and unique place it has in China to position itself as the ‘go-to’ international news wire for trusted news from the mainland. Instead of relying upon state-run news agencies, media organisations around the world could subscribe to SCMP’s dependable news feed, paying a premium for independent reporting, free from interference.

MEDIA WATCH – Exclusive: SCMP Staff Clash with Editors Over Tiananmen Censorship 15

Little Eye on SCMP

A multi-part series

For context, please refer to ‘Editor’s Note‘ below and Part 2: Op-Ed.

‘Little Eye on Big Media’ Special Series: An investigation by Hong Wrong has uncovered a culture of self-censorship by reporters as well as editorial interference from senior staff at the South China Morning Post. It has also been revealed how staff resisted an attempt to scrap an acclaimed multimedia project on the Tiananmen Square massacre in the final moments before publication.

Whilst no-one at the Post was willing to speak on record, the blog interviewed several current staff members on the condition of anonymity. Journalists complained of poor morale, a high staff turnover and a rise in instances of sensitive stories being scrapped, diluted, ‘buried’ or removed – all under the leadership of Wang Xiangwei, the Post’s first mainland-born editor.

The blog learned that most articles are still published without hindrance. The degree to which a report may be distorted depends on the sensitivity of the topic, the time frame and which editors are involved. One source spoke of how some reporters writing critical pieces involving the mainland exercised an “excess of caution”, bypassing what they knew to be a better angle for fear of conflict with the management. However, the blog was also told that, in some instances, sub-editors attempt to moderate skewed stories before publication.

On other occasions, pieces that feature criticism of the local and national governments may travel back-and-forth between writers and senior editors, who will adjust how the story is framed and insist on more ‘balance’ or emphasis to highlight the authorities’ point of view. Controversial stories may be ‘buried’ deep within the print edition, or never make it past the online edition. In some cases, stories have been removed months later – without public explanation – from the website.

There was no evidence that staff were being formally instructed on what to report on, but Wang and deputy editor Tammy Tam allegedly “discourage” writers from pursuing certain stories, leading some to fear for their jobs or threaten to quit.

NEWS – Canada’s Consulate Hits Back at Business Chamber Over Anti-Democracy Movement Ad 3

The Consulate General of Canada has issued a strong statement distancing itself from the actions of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong after it published an anti-democracy movement advert in the South China Morning Post.

john wit, hong kong

Mr John Witt, of Hong Kong Land; chairman of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the statement from the Canadian Consulate.

The original advert appeared in the SCMP two weeks ago, taking aim at the Occupy Central movement.