A motto to live by in my humble profession has been: "Comment is free but facts are sacred." Being a pundit I know, especially about the first part. But the Hong Kong Journalists Association, which is planning a protest on Sunday, seems to have lost sight of the second part.
The march is ostensibly for press freedom. So far so good. I am all for such demonstrations and may be tempted to join some of them now and then.
Americans are, rightly, proud of their First Amendment. I have often wondered why we don't do more to celebrate and popularise Article 27 of the Basic Law, which guarantees freedom of speech and of the press among other basic rights. Alas, the association isn't doing that.
It says the march is triggered by recent events such as the sacking of radio host and long-time government critic Li Wei-ling by Commercial Radio and the reassignment of Chinese-language daily Ming Pao's respected chief editor following the appointment of a Malaysian journalist as principal executive editor. These events, they say, raise alarms about self-censorship and press freedom that should concern everyone. I agree they are of public concern. The only problem is that the two cases the association has cited fall under the "he says, she says" category, stories that are full of rumours, unsubstantiated accusations and speculation; what they are really short on are facts.
I love Li's response to questions raised at City Forum about the lack of evidence in her accusations that the Leung Chun-ying administration was responsible for her sacking because of her anti-government criticism.
"I am the witness," she said. In other words, we just have to take her word for it. I bet some in the audience must wonder if she was going to add she was the judge, prosecutor and jury as well. If that was the kind of intellectual content she brought to her show, I say the only crime the radio station has committed was to have tolerated her in the spotlight for so long.
As for Ming Pao, perhaps its owners really are trying to compromise its independence. But until there is evidence of that, I see nothing wrong with bringing in experienced journalists from outside Hong Kong. It should even be encouraged given the city's rising parochialism.