HK media fostering free speech over border: editor

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2007, 12:00am

The Hong Kong media and the city's climate of free speech has played an important role in promoting freedom of speech on the mainland, veteran mainland journalist Li Datong said last night.

The editor of mainland paper the China Youth Daily, who was stripped of his position last year and in 1989 for initiating dialogue between journalists and central party leaders for reforming the mainland media, said although there were still governmental controls on free speech, the 'yearning for free speech has never been more powerful' than today.

Speaking at the Society for Publishers in Asia Awards last night, Li said the internet had changed the mainland media.

'The internet has the power to take any local news and make it national news overnight. The fragments of information surfacing on the internet could at any time be snatched up by journalists and be turned into major professional news stories,' he said.

With 130 million Web users, and 20 million blogs on the mainland, theoretically every blogger was a potential source of news, he said.

'The internet, perhaps all important news, is discussed instantly by Web users, so that the words of tens of thousands of users swell into public opinion. They are a force authorities can no longer afford to ignore.'

The Guangdong media had been a driving force in mainland media in the past decade. 'They have enjoyed success in the marketplace, becoming a model for all Chinese media. This is closely connected to the climate of free speech in Hong Kong.

'The news reports and editorials by our colleagues in Hong Kong have also played an important role in promoting freedom of speech in China.'

A range of non-government-funded metropolitan newspapers, whose survival depends on their level of public acceptance, had sprung up in major mainland cities, he said. Their popularity could be contrasted with that of the state media.

'Their circulations have faltered. Their influence has waned. They would have faced extinction long ago were they not supported by state funding,' Li said.

He recognised there was still control within the media, but authorities were forced to bow to public pressure to an extent. 'The traditional system of media controls in China grinds on. Many of the most important political topics in contemporary China cannot be talked about openly. News that authorities deem harmful to the legitimacy of their rule is suppressed.

'Authorities hold meetings, or carry out orders by telephone. But they even fear leaving a written record.'

Li, from Sichuan , has been a journalist since 1979 when he joined the China Youth Daily. In 1989, he lost his editorial position and was barred from working for five years. In 1995, he launched the weekly supplement Freezing Point for the China Youth Daily, which was closed in January last year.