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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 11:53am
Leung Chun-ying
CommentInsight & Opinion

Rebut, yet don't chill free speech

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 2:57am

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has demanded through his lawyers that a newspaper retract an article which he says defamed him. This has prompted demands that, instead, Leung should withdraw the lawyer's letter. Leung has said that while he has always respected freedom of speech and of the press, the article contained allegations of relations with triads that had to be taken seriously. His lawyer's letter claimed that commentary in the Hong Kong Economic Journal by Joseph Lian Yi-zheng, a former member of the Central Policy Unit think tank, defamed him and called on the newspaper to retract it.

The newspaper and the author denied having made an allegation of triad links and declined to retract the article, but apologised if it prompted some readers to draw "unfair conclusions".

Leung has accepted the apology but has not said whether he will withdraw the letter. Hopefully, he will be content to let the matter rest.

The newspaper's response speaks for itself. Lian appears to have gone too far. Whether Leung should have issued a lawyer's letter is debatable. It has triggered debate whether a government official should sue the press. Journalists, human-rights activists and pan-democratic lawmakers have called on him to withdraw the letter over fears for press freedom.

Precedent in Britain establishes that governments cannot sue the press. The principle behind this is to protect a free flow of information, which is fundamental to our freedoms. Legal action by a government over publication can have a chilling effect on freedom of the press in its role of monitoring government and holding it accountable. Leung has not said he will sue. But a letter sent through his lawyers is seen as putting the recipient on notice.

Leung is no ordinary official. Under executive-led government he is, in a sense, the government. An official of his standing should be big enough to deal with the affront caused by the article without sending a lawyer's letter. Press freedom, a core Hong Kong value, is a real issue here, because it rests on perceptions that can be very sensitive in these circumstances. So what would we have Leung do? A robust public statement rebutting the content of the article perceived to be defamatory could have won public sympathy and prompted the newspaper to reflect on its action.


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Hong Kong newspaper publishers are a complex bunch. They operate not with a responsibility that worthy of protection under the free speech and press. The last example shows skipping on verification and not ready to be fit for printing on a story that could have caused grave consequences to political and social instability of the city. Seemingly readership of those irresponsible newspapers are a gullible bunch. In fact I don’t think there are many of these simple-minder readers that can justify the economic support of those newspapers. I question if Hong Kong newspapers all rely on readership to pay for their bills. In other word, are some supported by other sources? It is still lawful but how trustful especially the news and editorial? If The New York Times or The Washington Post besides its core business in newspaper but to run another business on the side or being a subsidiary of a corporation in town, would they still enjoy the respect even worldwide? Since the last ‘election’ of the CE, newspapers have moved beyond the self-interest in commerce but exerting political means to achieve IT. Perhaps they are using a wider means to get to fundamentally a narrow self-interest gain.
The press struggles for survival, make ends meet,to make money AND influenced by others sources.
Whymak you science man subtly working on test tubes and physics reaches new horizons.
If Hong Kong common law is what it cracks up to be, customs and judicial precedents should count for something in our rule of law. We actually had a colonial ordinance against libel. Why are yellow journalists given free rein to lie and slander?
This editorial makes no sense. If everyone could take malicious, slanderous potshots at officials in responsible positions and all they could do is spend every ounce of their management energy to repel these lunatics with I-said-he-said defense, do you think Hong Kong ideological morons could separate wheat from chaff, or right from wrong? If truth comes out decades later after much harm is done, what good is it? Is this another Virgin Birth of the Democracy faith?
Even 24 years after Tiananmen, dumb Hong Kong demonstrators still insist students were killed in Tiananmen Square. Reporters of your publication wanted to run the lie that Li Wangyang died from foul play, not suicide. Good thing someone there came to their senses not to publish such malicious libel.
Why does SCMP encourage dysfunctional governments of the US and UK as paradigm? No wonder Hong Kong has no effective governance.
Free speech comes with responsibilty. It is not an entitlement. At some point crime and punishment must be the order of the day.
Defamation law has become a law of convenience for whoever wants to silence an accuser. It becomes really a political tool in places where freedom of speech is allowed but with a tradition of running a defamation law. Hong Kong, Singapore and Britain all have such tradition and exercise it. I have been educated by a reader of SCMP that US too has such a law. I or many others properly think not so because US is not in the habit in invoking such law. Instead, debate and rebut in the public are the norm. Thus America avoids the easy misuse of defamation law in the hands of bullies in order to uphold freedom of speech and press. I prefer the fairer chance way to get to the truth which ultimately put the burden of proof on the accuser. How is an accuser or accused be punished or compensated shouldn’t be the lure for the defamation law to continue to exist.
There is no defamatory court case in the colonial era and handed-over era instituted by HK Government..
Under the Sedition Ordinance and Control of Publication Consolidation Ordinance in the colonial era,various newspapers were convicted by virtue of the law.The judgement was: If the article when published, would in the natural course of events stir up hatred or contempt against the Government, it is prima facie evidence of a publication with a seditious intention.
Freedom of speech should exclude any element of unfounded allegation.
The new Constructal law of design in nature and culture makes it clear that nature, given freedom, evolves flow currents of energy, matter and information more easily (more optimally and sustainably - trading performance against cost), over time, resulting in persistence, hierarchy, diversity and complexity.
Since we are, as a society, self-evidently imbedded in nature, it would be sheer folly to defy a law of nature and also ultimately self-defeating. This is physics (signatured by geometries of beauty in art, design and architecture), not opinion. As such, it's logic is compelling and irresistible.
Since in the SAR we are not (in practice), a one-party state, surely we are enlightened enough not to follow Singapore in this regard (using distortions of common laws of defamation to quash dissent and freedoms of speech and assembly), at least?
I don't understand your language. But it appears that your first part is alright, but not the second.
We're talking about optimal balance through design, not the beauty of physical laws, although in stable physical systems, countervailing forces are always present. In social and political systems, objective functions similar to physical ones should be clearly stated.
Absolute speech freedom is total nonsense.
May I clarify what you said about geometry in physics. (Schwarzschild) geometry for curved space-time can be shown to be equivalent to the presence of both attractive and repulsive forces in the Newtonian framework. This is how stable equilibrium comes about with the right initial conditions.
Here is another indictment for this editorial. Speech freedom alone without crime and punishment - stated in my other posting - cannot produce equilibrium, i.e., social and political stability.
Sorry about busting the central dogma of the Democracy faithful.
Louis I. Kahn, a much admired American architect internationally, to him, architecture is the work of man that nature cannot produce without man yet natural laws of nature cannot be neglected in the making of architecture. So there is a balance.
J. B. Jeyaretnam and Tang Liang Hong, both former prominent opposition leaders in Singapore, were sued for libel countless times by leaders of the Lion City, with the tragic result that one was bankrupted and then stripped of his parliament seat and the other fled the country and sought political asylum in Australia. Hong Kong is now on the verge of a similar slippery slope.



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