Toothless Shark: the underlying changing landscape of news in Hong Kong and the missing role of citizen journalism and social media

Toothless Shark: the underlying changing landscape of news in Hong Kong and the missing role of citizen journalism and social media

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Hong Kong is one of the most wired cities in the world, especially when it comes to social media. Facebook is one of if not the most popular social media platform in the city of 8 million, with 6 million Internet users and nearly 5 million members at the end of 2012, according to the Internet World Stats.

For a city that is as tech-savvy as Hong Kong, the role of social media and the Internet is almost non-existent when it comes to journalism. What is sorely missing are the citizen-generated blogs, online magazines, and websites that offer an opinion or alternative coverage of society and politics. The closest that comes to such is “The House News (,” which is a visual clone of The Huffington Post but is primarily a platform for gossip and celebrity news. Therein lies a paradox in the growing number of anti-government citizen protests, and the lack of citizen journalism be it microblogging or mobile journalism. 

One of the clues behind the paradox between the popularity of social media and technology in Hong Kong, and their lack of a role in contributing to journalism comes down to the realities of news coverage in post-1997 society.

On the surface little has changed. Compared to many of its Asian neighbors, including Singapore and Indonesia, Hong Kong still boasts a relatively free society with a free press. The city has a relatively expansive media considering its population. As of July 31, 2013, there were 53 daily newspapers and 701 periodicals.

Objectivity, accountability, watchdog journalism and ethics are values that continue to be strongly endorsed by individual journalists and the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).

The media in Hong Kong is also protected by the Basic Law under the “one country, two systems” arrangement. Article 27 reads: “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.”

On the other hand, the reality of how that definition is being played out is increasingly fuzzy. By analyzing coverage of politically sensitive events—defined by the media as any event that involves the government in Hong Kong—in local newspapers, a picture of partisanship, pro-China coverage and self-censorship surfaces.

Sadly, self-censorship is how news is increasingly defined by journalists and readers. Public perception of Hong Kong’s press credibility fell to the lowest since 2007, according to The University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Program’s 2013 annual poll. Almost half of those polled (48 percent) said they felt the presence of self-censorship within the

Journalists themselves readily admit that self-censorship is now prevalent. About 30 percent of journalists in Hong Kong self-censor their stories before submitting them, according to the 2013 report “Dark Clouds on the Horizon” conducted by the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

What are the reasons behind self-censorship? Is it media ownership, a change in the key decision makers in the newsroom or direct pressure from the Hong Kong government? The reasons behind the changing reality are complex and worth considering. Hong Kong is a good case study to show how the definition of news can change in reality, but how behind the scenes reporters can maintain their philosophy about news and professionalism. It is also a solid case study in examining the paradox between the freedom and democracy in press that it wields on the surface, and the dearth of citizen involvement at a deeper level. 

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