May 3 marked World Press Freedom Day, an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of a free and accountable news media. Young Post published a special edition, with some fake news stories, and some censored stories, to highlight how difficult life can be when the press is not free.
We invited readers to write a letter to the editor explaining why press freedom mattered to them. We received more than 80 entries, and picked the best 10. Below are extracts from those entries; you can read the full letters online.
A watchdog for the people
From the tiniest issues to the most decisive policies, everyone has the right to know the facts. This is the only way that the people can monitor local authorities.
By raising public awareness, the media helps protect the public from crooked politicians. It makes us aware of the issues happening in the city, while exposing any hidden misdeeds as well. That’s why it is so important to have a free media. It is a watchdog that helps us stop those people who would hurt society.
Free press is like a security system we use to guard our homes. Hongkongers are too busy to investigate everything happening in the city, so we need the media to do it for us. If it cannot provide us with genuine news, we lose track of the world.
You can see this in places such as North Korea, where press freedom is tightly controlled. The only news that is allowed to be reported is news that favours the government. This means citizens are never truly informed about current affairs, and they have to blindly trust and follow their leader.
From keeping society informed to helping monitor the government, a free press is an indispensible part of our civil society and democracy. I very much hope that we can stand together to protect this institution from being censored and supervised.
Au Yong Chun-sang, SKH Tsang Shiu Tim Secondary School
Media has the right, and responsibility, too
Press freedom is a basic human right. It is crucial in a democratic country, as it plays an important role of checking on government and administrators. Thanks to Hong Kong’s high degree of press freedom, editors are able to express their opinions and report the facts freely. This allows them to expose flaws in our society, and forces the government to take action.
Press and media can draw attention to any social issues, such as corruption or malpractice. Take the Tuen Mun Sita Sewage Treatment Plant, for example. Two workers told the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) that Sita had been illegally dumping tonnes of sewage into the sea. But, the EPD did not do anything until the press started to pressure them to take immediate action. In the end, Sita was charged with 14 counts of violating Water Pollution Control Ordinance. This proves the role of press and the importance of their freedom to report any social issues.
A reliable media is also the key to achieving press freedom, and reporting stories accurately is essential for gaining people’s trust. We will only trust the media if the news is fair and accurate. It must be certain of the facts – no matter what the topic – and it cannot produce partial and biased news to vilify people who disagree with the government.
Everyone has the right to know and to question the government. It is the duty of media to provide the information to the people accurately. Without it, people would are not able to see the whole picture.
Lau Ho Wai from S.K.H. Tsang Shiu Tim Secondary School
Responsible media starts with us
Press freedom means knowledge. Thanks to media, I can easily get information from all around the world, allowing me to know the full truth about issues, no matter how political or sensitive it is.
The media has a responsibility to show people the truth, but sometimes people get incorrect information, and this changes how they see the world. Some media companies have biased ideas and positions, which affects people’s ability to think critically and independently.
Whenever we read an article, we should question whether it is showing us the truth, or if it has a biased view and position to try to make you feel a certain way. It’s especially important to do this before you share it with your friends – otherwise you are helping spread misinformation.
Janice Cheung Suet-ying, 17, FKL Man Shek Tong Secondary School
For today and for future generations
Freedom of the press is crucial to everyone – not only for critics, authors and reporters, but also citizens. Without it, there will be no credible source of information for things that happen in our society.
A news report can affect how we think. Journalists influence how we feel about the community and the government. If a media does not report things entirely or accurately, then we cannot make an accurate judgement.
This even affects how future generations will understand us, because if things are not reported honestly, then history books will be incorrect. If publishing companies are censored, then we will never understand historic events, and the truth will be hidden, leaving us in ignorance.
A free press is needed to fulfil our right to information, and make our city livable.
Hugo Chui Tsz-kit, 17, FKL Man Shek Tong Secondary School
Telling the whole side of the story
Freedom of speech is essential to democratic society, and a free press can help develop citizens who are well informed regarding both current events as well as the problems facing the country. It also helps countries and cities serve the interests of ordinary people with social justice. If information is suppressed, the facts cannot be presented and ideas cannot be freely exchanged.
I live on the mainland, so I fully understand the importance of the media in people’s lives. When state media reports to the local audience, the language is often different. Though the media brags about being “just” and “objective”, its reporting of global affairs is mostly negative and only fits the government’s foreign policy, and any fact which could threaten the government is always blocked.
Every year on June 4, Hong Kong has a commemorative report about the controversial incident in Tiananmen Square, however, China’s mass media always ignores it and refuses to talk about it. Many people still do not know about this event that exposed injustice and showed sympathy for people’s sufferings.
Freedom of the press implies that all people should have the right to express themselves in writing or in any other way of expression of personal opinion. That should not be blocked.
Kelly Lo Sze-wing, FKL Man Shek Tong Secondary School
The whole truth, no matter how “sensitive” the topic
I live in Man Kam To – the border between Sheung Shui and Shenzhen. That means I get a taste of both Hong Kong and mainland media, so I can see how important press freedom is.
For many students, watching the news on TVB might be completely normal. But for others, they never know if the news will be too sensitive and be cut. Perhaps the image of the news reporter will disappear, and instead be replaced with a scenic shot of Vitoria Harbour, or an ad about how to prevent Zika.
My critical thinking skills and my horizons are broadened by reliable media. It allows me to keep in touch with the outside world, as it informs me about the missile crisis in North Korea, or the election in South Korea.
The more information I receive, the more my brain works. For example knowing that residents of Wukan village are being threatened by Chinese officials, it makes me think more about China’s “social phenomenon”. There are important lessons there for young Hongkongers, as we are very politically active. Because of the pressures of the “one country, two systems” policy, we take part in far more political events that teenagers did 10 years ago.
Press freedom and a reliable media gives us a sense of security and sense of belonging in Hong Kong, and keeps the political situation stable.
Yannie Cheung, FKL Man Shek Tong Secondary School
Information helps build a better society
Press freedom is essential to the future of Hong Kong. To begin with, a free press helps monitor the local government. It allows the media to report facts without any interference, which means people are able to know what is happening in society.
Governments in some places tamper with press freedom. They change articles and news reports. When the media in those places try to report any government wrongdoing – such as corruption – they are forced to stop, and sometimes they are even arrested.
But media in Hong Kong are protected by press freedom. They are able to report what they see, and it forces the government to deal with social issues. By watching people’s reactions to news reports, the government can also get an idea of different opinions, and take them into consideration when setting up new policies.
In addition, a reliable media has a role to instil the right values on people. A responsible media should report facts to its reader by using a neutral stance. For example, regarding the Umbrella movement, responsible media should include different facts about the event, not just criticising the people for causing an inconvenience. This gives readers a better understanding of all the issues, and allows them to form their own thoughts and opinions.
A free press will also introduce readers to people from different walks of life. For instance, reports on the underprivileged make people aware of Hong Kong’s poverty problem, and inspire us to work together and improve society.
Anthony Chan Hei-wik,16, SKH Tsang Shui Tim Secondary School
A cornerstone of democracy
Freedom of the press protects the right to obtain and publish information or opinions without government censorship or fear of punishment. This allows the press to raise its voice against wrongdoings and to deliver accurate news so people will be informed about the things happening around them.
A country without freedom of press is not truly free. As Yemeni journalist, politician, and human rights activist Tawakkol Karman once said: “In the absence of a free press, there is no democracy.”
Without freedom of the press, “reality” is what decided by those in control. If we had no press freedom, the entrenched special interests and political interests would be able to hide their wrongdoing, as well as manufacture ”facts” to make them look good, and no one would know the truth. And even if we did know, what would we able to do?
A reliable media gets our message to a wider audience. It is the fastest and most efficient way to keep in touch around the country. A media is vital, but only if it is truthful and reliable. Media within a place like North Korea, for example, is tightly controlled, and you simply can not believe what you see. There is no way to know what is true and what is a lie.
Fortunately, Hong Kong’s media can be considered as honest, compared to other parts of the world. We are lucky to live in a city where this is protected.
Muhammad Arzoo, 15, Tak Nga Secondary School
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's discontent over German comedian Jan Boehmermann may start a slippery slope
A bridge between the government and the people
Press freedom is widely acknowledged to be a foundation of society, allowing journalists to keep a close eye on the government and reflect the true situation of society. Journalists shoulder their responsibility to hold the government accountable, so they should be respected and given the right to report the truth, instead of punishing them or restricting them from reporting sensitive content.
The media is crucial as it acts as a bridge between the government and citizens. Without it, we would never hear about any downsides to any of the government’s policies. With their access to senior officials and government documents, journalists can give us a more comprehensive insight of the quality of government officers. We don’t need, to investigate the government ourselves, we can just read the news. However, that means the media must be reliable and trustworthy.
For that to happen, news reports need to show different viewpoints, and that includes reporting on things that are politically sensitive. A reliable media offers an accurate reflection of society, but it also needs our help. We are the people who must communicate with the media and tell them how things are in our communities, and how we want the government to improve.
Thomson HW Ying, SKH Tsang Shiu Tim Secondary School
Press freedom needs our protection
As Hongkongers, it is our right to be informed with accurate information. Knowing exactly what happened, we can take responsibility and care about the issues.
For example, in a case like Occupy Central, if we know the full story, we can support the victims and demonstrate on their behalf. But if we are deprived of our right to know, we cannot ensure our society has treated them with justice.
The media acts as a watchdog to prevent any mismanagement by the government. For instance, former financial secretary Leung Kam–chung was caught in a financial scandal when he bought a luxury car shortly before imposing a car tax. When the news got out, he had to resign. If there are rumours the government is doing something wrong, a citizen can report it and request them to improve. But if press freedom is destroyed, we may not be able to monitor the government as well.
Gone are the days when Hong Kong had a high ranking in the Press Freedom index. It is easy to find incidents that show press freedom is under attack here, such as the stabbing of the former Ming Pao editor and the “unplanned holiday” of other publishers. In the face of all of this, press freedom is crucial to Hong Kong.
Carol Leung ka-yi