Outlook For Hong Kong’s Press Freedom Similar to Post-1949 Shanghai: Veteran Journalist

The media landscape in Hong Kong following the forced closure of the Apple Daily bears a striking resemblance to that of Shanghai after the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power in 1949, a veteran Chinese journalist told RFA.

Essayist and former Beijing-based editor Ling Cangzhou, who now lives in the United States, told RFA that he saw strong parallels between an ongoing crackdown on press freedom in Hong Kong since the CCP imposed a national security law on the city, and the early days of the People’s Republic of China in Shanghai.

“[They want] everyone to keep quiet and only say things that agree with the government … so as to keep the authorities happy by making it easier for them to rule,” Ling said.

“The situation for the media in Hong Kong right now is pretty similar to the situation in 1949 Shanghai,” he said. “Back then, the CCP didn’t get rid of all of the newspapers and publishing companies … right away: it took a while. Not all publishers were dealt with immediately.”

“Looking at Shanghai in 1949 and the direction Hong Kong is going in right now, it will wind up the same as mainland China; it will be assimilated,” Ling said in an interview shortly after Hong Kong police arrested Fung Wai-kong, managing editor and chief opinion writer for shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily’s English website, at the airport on suspicion of “colluding with a foreign power” under the national security law.

Fung, who wrote under the pen-name Lo Fung, was released on bail following his arrest.

“The fact that Fung Wai-kong was arrested at the airport doesn’t send a good message about press freedom in Hong Kong, or in the rest of the world,” Ling said.

His warnings were in keeping with those from journalists in Hong Kong, who say more and more people working for media organizations are likely to be targeted for arrest under the draconian national security law imposed by China one year ago.

Purges and deletions
Allan Au, who was fired by government broadcaster RTHK from his current affairs show Open Line Open View last month after hosting it for 11 years, said there is currently a purge under way at the station following a change of senior management and a new supervisory structure, both of which were imposed by the government earlier this year.

RTHK’s Programme Staff Union has warned that balancing, critical voices are now disappearing from the airwaves, with the scrapping of two programs, the culture-focused RTHK Talk Show and current affairs talk show This Week.

Stand News, an online news service where Chan works as deputy assignment editor, deleted its commentary and op-ed articles after Fung’s arrest, which came after the arrests of two other columnists for the now-defunct Apple Daily, with police citing dozens of the paper’s articles as evidence for the charges.

As Stand News was deleting articles, online media 852 Post removed its videos from its YouTube channel, describing the political atmosphere in Hong Kong as “akin to a black rainstorm warning or a No. 10 typhoon signal.”

The website Winandmac later announced it would relocate out of Hong Kong, to evade the ongoing crackdown on the media by the CCP.

Ling agreed, saying the old days of Hong Kong’s wide-ranging and freewheeling press were now over.

“The old Hong Kong, the one with press freedom, with freedom of publication and free speech has gone now,” he said. “There’s no longer much difference between Hong Kong and the rest of China.”

He said the next step could be to remove Hongkongers’ free access to the internet outside the Great Firewall of government censorship.

“It’ll happen very soon,” Ling said. “Very soon, Hongkongers won’t be able to watch overseas news channels like CNN … They won’t be available.”

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