Thousands of marathon runners sport blue ribbons in support of press freedom

Journalists hand out colourful ribbons in 'first punch' of fight against suppression of dissent

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 2:35pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 4:31am

Press-freedom advocates gave thousands of blue ribbons to runners taking part in yesterday's Standard Chartered Marathon to raise awareness of "deteriorating" conditions for the media.

At least 6,600 silk bands were handed out, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said, in the first stage of its "Gag Us Not" campaign. The ribbons went in 2½ hours, association chairman Sham Yee-lan said, adding that the campaign was the "first punch" in a fight against "suppression of dissenting voices".

"We had to disappoint many runners … The overwhelming response tells of a growing public concern about … press freedom," Sham said.

The campaign was launched after a week that saw Commercial Radio host Li Wei-ling, a vocal critic of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, sacked. Her abrupt dismissal came on the day the city slid from 58th last year to 61st out of 180 countries and territories in a Reporters Without Borders media-freedom index - a fall the association called "worrying".

The association said in a statement: "We'll show the authoritarians that we will blow up when asked to remain silent."

Many of the 65,000 runners yesterday expressed support for the cause.

Leung Fat-ling was among those pinning a ribbon on his top as he prepared to run in the 10-kilometre race. He said press freedom in Hong Kong was "stooping to levels comparable to those of the mainland".

Leung said he was a long-time reader of Chinese-language daily Ming Pao and was concerned about its decision to replace its chief editor with a journalist from Malaysia, a country known for its tight controls on the media.

Lo Chi-fai agreed as she prepared for the full marathon.

"If we don't voice our discontent now, what will happen in the future?" the teacher asked.

Li again found herself at the centre of attention at RTHK's City Forum. Government supporters surrounded her and shouted that she "deserved to be sacked". During the show, she faced calls to provide evidence for her accusation that her sacking was down to pressure from C.Y. Leung.

"As a journalist, I have tried my best to disclose all my first-hand experiences," she said.

Shih Wing-ching, founder of free newspaper AM730, said he would continue to run Li's column and would not change the paper's stance, despite his earlier claim that Beijing-linked companies had pulled adverts. But asked on City Forum about Li's case, Shih said he preferred not to make accusations without hard evidence. AM730 is printed on SCMP Group's presses.

Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu agreed the media was under political pressure and spoke of being summoned by a mainland official over an article critical of a national security law.

Watch: Thousands join Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon