Free speech has to involve more than just blindly following pan-democrats

Michael Chugani says freedom of speech needs to involve more than just blindly siding with the democrats to slate the government

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 5:50pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 4:22am

Friends say I have changed. They say I have become a Leung fun - a derisive Cantonese term that means a fan of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Yes, I have changed. Instead of blindly supporting the so-called democracy camp, I now use my free speech rights more evenly. In Hong Kong, anyone who does that is open to smears. Free speech has come to mean always siding with the democracy camp to demonise our own government and the central government. Those who use free speech more rationally are mocked as self-censoring lackeys. Well, to hell with that.

I support Leung's property cooling measures, fight against poverty, housing strategy, efforts to clean up the air and two-tin milk powder limit. I have no strong views on his rejection of a TV licence for Ricky Wong Wai-kay but I think he handled the issue abysmally. His demand that the Philippines must kowtow for the hostage tragedy offends me. He has failed to unite the community and to show he is not a Beijing puppet. He has even acquired the plastic smile his beleaguered predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, wore in his twilight years as leader. But I still think people should give him a chance to lead - as they should every new leader - instead of tripping his every step. If that makes me a Leung fun, so be it.

Those who mock ATV as being Beijing-friendly say I changed in order to keep my job as a freelancer with the station. That's how puny-minded some so-called democrats have become. For the record, ATV never tells me who I should or should not invite to my TV shows. But even if I shoeshine Beijing to make a living, isn't that my democratic right? Isn't it the free speech right of a media organisation to be Beijing-friendly if it chooses, as it is the right of a media organisation to be democracy-camp-friendly?

But so-called Beijing-friendly media organisations are vilified as being owned by shoe-shining businessmen who sacrifice media freedom for commercial advantages on the mainland. Surely, media groups are also run like businesses and owners make decisions they think are best for business. Take the case of the Next Media group, which the democracy camp worships as Hong Kong's fearless defender of media freedom. The group recently shut down its Sharp Daily free newspaper because it wasn't making money. Why not forget about profits and keep it going for the sake of media freedom? But Next Media silenced part of its own voice for business reasons. How is that different from media groups which are Beijing-friendly for business reasons?

I am not so big-headed as to claim that silencing me means silencing free speech, as some in the media have done after losing their jobs or being switched to less prominent time slots. Free speech is not represented by any one single person, those who shout the loudest or those who taunt others for disagreeing with them.

Saying nothing out of choice, or holding different views, are also a part of free speech. I no longer expect those who claim to champion democracy to understand that. That is why I have changed. The democracy camp no longer gives me a reason to buy their message.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host.