Free to air

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 July, 2010, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Journalists Association, dedicated to the defence of press freedom and the right to free speech, constantly claims that the space for these freedoms has been narrowing since the handover.

There is some truth in that, but the responsibility doesn't rest with the government, which has no power to manipulate the media.

It is the conglomerates that have been 'recruiting' media outlets as a form of political insurance, prompting ubiquitous and invisible self-censorship.

The fact that many have 'monopolised' some bigger and older media organisations has prompted the rise of new forms of media such as the internet and citizen radio. Online radio is not regulated under the Broadcasting Authority Ordinance, and thus allows the boundaries of free speech to expand.

No wonder Commercial Radio pulled the plug on bidding for a digital audio broadcasting licence and decided to invest in interactive digital broadcasting on the internet.

The rise of new media has given consumers new choices. So we can say with confidence that our media landscape has expanded to facilitate more press freedom and freedom of expression.

In Hong Kong, we may not have full democracy, but we have freedoms, the rule of law and respect for human rights - something that cannot always be said about other places, even in the West.

As I have said before, our police force is one of the most civilised in the world. And its actions hold up well when compared to those of the police in the United States and Canada.

From the violent World Trade Organisation protest in Seattle in 1999 to the one at the recent G20 summit in Canada, we see that public protests have become a common trend.

The use of violence and the level of chaos at some of these protests prompted police there to respond with force, sometimes resulting in police violence and brutality.

Compare that to the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong in 2005, and how our police handled the radical protests staged by the Korean farmers, and we can't help but praise their stellar performance. They used minimum force in crowd control to enforce the law.

As a result, there were no major casualties or damage and our police force was roundly applauded the world over.

Fast forward to this year's July 1 rally. Some young protesters defied an order to disperse and insisted on camping overnight outside the government headquarters in Central. Police eventually had to remove them - but it was done in a peaceful manner.

American police have gained notoriety not only for the way they handle protesters but also for their conduct during ordinary traffic violations. Once stopped by a traffic officer, a driver is required to turn off the engine and place his or her hands on the steering wheel. Failure to comply may result in being given a traffic ticket. Or, in the worst-case scenario, the driver may end up being beaten - or even killed.

Similarly, in Canada, one story, from Vancouver, has attracted immense public interest. A Polish immigrant died after being tasered a few times by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at Vancouver International Airport. The case happened in 2007 but the final inquiry report was released only last month.

The tragedy happened mostly because the man did not speak English and there was no interpreter present. The man became agitated and acted violently after a few hours of interrogation.

Although the inquiry concluded that the police were not justified in using a taser, no officers were held responsible for the man's death.

There is always a price to pay when you complain or act against the authorities - even in a democratic country. This is not so much the case in Hong Kong, thanks to our core values, which we should be ready to defend as our national pride and legacy.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator