Dramatic images of Beijing students bloodied and running for cover during the ill-fated democracy movement in 1989 is precisely the material from which career ambitions are born. For Jessica Law Wai-man, 22, the call of duty came following those few tragic moments. 'It reinforced my hope of being a reporter because I thought of how the job of a journalist was so important, especially in helping to defend democracy.' Eight years later - after hearing about Hong Kong reporters detained, jailed or turned away by China; after hearing controversial remarks about press freedoms made by Chinese Foreign Minister and Vice-premier Qian Qichen; after hearing about the repeal of certain civil liberties in the territory - Law's sense of mission has only been further provoked. Having weathered few difficulties as editor of the English-language monthly student newspaper The Young Reporter, the Hong Kong Baptist University student will face a tough challenge as she launches her career following Hong Kong's change of sovereignty, when the rules will become ambiguous and the only certainty is uncertainty. Such an atmosphere gives Law mixed feelings about how it will affect the press, and how it has affected it so far. 'It is good in that journalists have been reporting more accurately. But I'm sure there must also be self-censorship because, depending on what they write, there may be a threat to their family and friends.' But she emphasises that various forms of censorship already exist due to the nature of the business and the limits of individuals to understand wholly any one event. Reporters cannot always present the whole picture; what they are offering is 'selected truth', she says. The Beijing crackdown was a prime example of what can go wrong when reporting on China, which many journalists were already critical of, she says. This particular case did not necessarily represent censorship, but a limitation. 'Many articles were written about the student leaders. I think many of the journalists were emotional so their attitude was approving and supportive. 'It somehow romanticised the movement and its leaders. I don't think journalists intended to do this; I would have probably done the same. 'But they only offered about 60 per cent of the whole picture. This is not enough, but it is difficult because everyone is limited.' Her job will be to try to depict as much of the truth as her abilities allow, she says. While self-censorship is a concern, it is not enough to drive her away from journalism, she says. Another aspiring journalist, Carmen Chan Ka-man, 22, at Baptist University, has little confidence in the future in terms of press freedom, but she will pursue her print career in the hope the SAR Government and her future colleagues will be able to offer some type of assurance after the handover that the situation will somehow improve, not worsen. She believes that self-censorship when reporting on controversial issues is unnecessary, if it can be supported by facts. As an example, she cites remarks made by Mr Qian last year that journalists could report facts but not advocate on issues such as the independence of Taiwan and Tibet. Chan says she believes that Taiwan is part of China and that declarations of independence are no more than rhetoric. But she sums up her interpretation of Mr Qian's statement simply: 'If I can prove that Taiwan is independent, then I will report it. I believe I can report the facts. If my editor tells me not to, I will fight it.' At the Chinese University of Hong Kong, professor and chairman of the Department of Journalism and Communication Dr Joseph Man Chan says the disposition of journalism students - 71 of whom will be graduating from the postgraduate and undergraduate programmes this year - is plagued with uncertainty. Dr Chan should know. He and two of his colleagues will be releasing the results of a study gauging the attitude of students towards issues related to journalism and press freedom next month. A 'sizeable portion' of those students surveyed were 'quite pessimistic' about the amount of press freedom after the handover, he says. Those who planned to pursue ambitions other than journalism cited factors unrelated to the change of sovereignty. But these soon-to-be journalists are in a state of anticipation. 'Students see 1997 as more of a challenge than a barrier to journalism,' says Dr Chan. In a similar survey two years ago sponsored by RTHK and conducted by the Social Sciences Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong, a veil of pessimism draped students' responses. Of the 443 journalism students polled, more than 65 per cent expected press freedom to diminish after the handover, with less than three per cent espousing an optimistic view. Six per cent of the students interviewed at Baptist University, Chinese University, Zhuhai College and Shue Yan College said they were satisfied with provisions for press freedom set out in the Basic Law. Back then, 38 per cent were satisfied with the existing freedom of speech in the territory, while a similar number said press freedom had declined in the previous three years. But their response to one question revealed a sliver of hope. About one-third of the respondents said they would work as reporters after graduation and another 37 per cent said they would like to do the same. 'To people of such a young age, who are idealistic, [the handover] is a source of excitement. Given a choice, of course they prefer a smooth transition. But this is their chance to experience dramatic history,' says Dr Chan. He says statements or interpretations of press freedom between the time students started their journalism training and the present offered no revelations. 'Students made their decision [to enter journalism] in the wake of the 1989 democracy movement; they should have an idea what the Chinese government is like.' He acknowledges that pressure has been growing to curtail press freedom but believes the scenario in the future may not be so bleak. 'Hong Kong is a pluralistic place economically, socially and politically. 'The level of pluralism will fan the winds of press freedom. In China, power is still heavily concentrated in the Communist Party, so it doesn't have a high degree of press freedom. But you compare China to say, 10 years ago, and you'll notice that at a personal level, there is more freedom,' Dr Chan says. He believes the expectations of the Hong Kong public will keep journalists in check; media that want to appease China and who toe the Communist Party line will only lose their credibility. Dr Yu Xu, head of Baptist University's Department of Journalism, has worked for China's media and acknowledges there must be a measure of self-restraint. 'Students cherish the concept of press freedom that has been rooted in Hong Kong due to its unique history. We [in Hong Kong] are only loyal to the facts but we have to respect the laws and customs in China.' But Chinese laws have dampened the spirits of Sam Yung Ming-wai, 21, who studies at Chinese University. 'It is still very dangerous to report in China because law is used to serve power, not to protect civil liberties.' Yung envisions constant struggle between the Chinese government and the Hong Kong media for the next few years. Assurances from mainland officials over press freedoms have only caused confusion, he says. 'We don't know what we'll be facing in two or three years in terms of being able to exercise free speech or monitoring the government,' says the broadcast journalism major who interned with Commercial Radio last summer. Article 23 of the Basic Law, which says the SAR Government can enact its own laws on issues such as sedition, treason and theft of state secrets, is also cause for concern. Yung sees little hope in having freedom of speech in the territory as long as China continues to keep its own media within arms' length. Conditions set by the Chinese Government and self-censorship are two forces that will manipulate the media after the handover, he says. Yung's willingness to report on political issues after the handover is coupled with the acceptance that there may be less freedom as a result. An attitude of caution will be necessary, he says. He will have to be careful about his sources and be balanced in his coverage, but he will try to minimise self-censorship. 'I'll have to make the most of the situation within the boundaries.' Some newspapers have already started to draw those boundaries, according to Yung, who finds the lack of emphasis on politics in newspaper editorials disturbing. 'In the past few years, politics should be a major concern. When you open the newspaper after some political event, you expect to see an editorial on it. But instead, other matters are discussed.' He charges the Oriental Daily News of being guilty of this practice, which he says concentrates on livelihood issues rather than on more political matters. Such a 'shift in focus is not entirely appropriate' in creating a positive political environment, he believes. Like Law, the crackdown on the democracy movement stirred his sense of duty and compelled him to consider the impact Chinese and Hong Kong politics would have on his future. What is sad for students like Yung is that his aspirations of changing the world in some small way already seem limited. But he believes these conditions only make reporting more challenging and meaningful and says wistfully. 'I just want to make an impact on society.' Responsibilities, ethics, the perils of reporting in or about China - these concerns have all been discussed in classes, says Dr Chan; and lecturers must provide a reality check for those who risk being disillusioned. 'We don't want students to have blind faith. Our responsibility is to help students analyse the situation and they must make up their own minds, as to what constitutes the basis for optimism and what may lead to pessimism. I let them know what my judgment is but I want them to make up their own minds.' The Baptist and Chinese universities have prepared students for their dealings with China by exploring the history, practices and theories of the mainland's media and politics. The Department of Journalism and Communication at Chinese University is also offering a month-long Beijing programme in May, aimed at sharpening students' Putonghua skills. Response has been good - 42 applications have been received for 15 spaces. It will be one step in increasing the student's understanding of China, says Dr Chan. 'At present, they are interested in knowing the language; As Hong Kong becomes an integral part of China, their careers will be intertwined with China. Students have high aspirations but also a degree of uncertainty because they don't know how the concept of 'one country, two systems' will work. But for them, I believe it is exciting uncertainty.' Law, a previous intern with the Hong Kong Standard who hopes to work for either a Chinese- or English-language daily newspaper in the territory, advocates a compromise between the two forces - both have to be encouraged to adapt to the other's ways. If Hong Kong journalists paint a broader, more comprehensive picture of China, it will help the public better understand the mainland, she says. Since journalists provide the main window to China, biased reporting will only lead to greater misunderstandings. The Chinese Government, in turn, should respect the laws and customs of Hong Kong, which serve to protect certain freedoms. Restricting information, as she expects the Chinese Government to do, or distorting China's image, as she believes the Hong Kong media has done, will only undermine their relationship. The greater flow of accurate information between the two will lead to better relations but the greatest barrier, she says, is a deep-rooted fear. 'I think Chinese officials are scared of the Hong Kong press and the press here are scared of them.' Although she is not optimistic about the future reporting environment, Law says she is not worried about the continuing friction between the Hong Kong media and the Chinese Government. 'It will take a long time but I believe the two parties can reach an understanding,' she says. Hopefully, that understanding will be achieved sooner than later.