Without question, one of the successes of the 'two systems . . .' pledge has been in the area of media freedom. Despite concerns about self-censorship, there has been no evidence of any attempt by the Government to interfere in the customary day-to-day workings of the press or broadcasting.
Before July 1, there was genuine anxiety among at least some journalists that, despite guarantees in the Basic Law, attempts might be made to curtail comment or influence news coverage. The situation at RTHK was felt to be particularly sensitive because of its status as a government-funded organisation.
Would Beijing understand the particular nature of the broadcaster's remit, under which it enjoyed the same degree of editorial independence as other media? Might the SAR Government expect the station to toe an official line and ignore critics of the administration? An answer has now been given with confirmation from the Government that it has no intention of changing the status quo at RTHK. The provisional legislator who complained that the Headliners programme poked fun at the Chief Executive has been told by Secretary for Broadcasting, Brian Chau Tak-hay, that presenters are allowed to express personal opinions in programmes provided they comply with the Broadcasting Authority's Code of Practice.
In essence, this welcome statement confirms the view summed up by the celebrated formula that fact is sacred but comment is free. The media need to provide straightforward and reliable information. But it is also part of their function both to run comment and to be the vehicle for different viewpoints expressed in different ways whether or not that is to the taste of officialdom. This is a hallmark of a healthy community, and reflects confidence on the part of an administration that a liberal society is sustained, not threatened, by freedom of the media.