The freedom of the media has long been seen as a litmus test of liberty in the SAR. All the evidence since July 1 has been that Beijing has been ready to let Hong Kong press and broadcasters go their own way, and that the new administration here accepts their freedom as a continuing - if not always comfortable - element of the SAR system. It would be ironic if, now, a few words to a TVB journalist from a Chinese embassy official should tarnish the good public image of Prime Minister Zhu Rongji's trip to Europe. For Hong Kong, the concern goes deeper. Journalists and viewers could only be taken aback by the vivid scene they saw on their television sets yesterday of the official berating the reporter for having dared to ask a question about a protest against the jailing of the Chinese journalist, Gao Yu. The official's action - and the language he used - was all the more striking because it was so out of step with the approach adopted by the Prime Minister since his appointment, particularly on his European trip. Mr Zhu may believe in firm discipline, but he must know that his presentation of the emerging China can only be done harm by the implication that he has to be protected from questioning about such an issue. More immediately for Hong Kong, any suggestion that reporters here should hold back when posing questions to mainland officials is bound to reawaken concerns voiced before the handover. The reality of the past nine months has shown that there is no incompatibility between press freedom and an SAR which Beijing has no cause to consider a threat. But in the Hong Kong system, one thing reporters do is to ask awkward questions. Officials may not relish that, but can usually find refuge in non-answers. Mr Zhu, himself, knows how to avoid awkward questions. For all the pre-handover predictions of doom and gloom for the media, there has been no suggestion of limits to the range of inquiry since July 1. Such freedom of expression has been a strength for the SAR, and should continue to be so.