Hong Kong’s Freedom of Press Threatened
An Interview with Wai Yeung Hong


President of Next Magazine, Wai Yeung Hong

Wai Yeung Hong is the president of Next Magazine, the only news company that has not been bought out by China. We asked him the current situation of freedom of speech and news coverage in Hong Kong, and how he hopes to continue to protect democratic values while influences from the Chinese government continue to increase.


Next Magazine & Democracy

Interviewer (I): What is your company’s stance with regard to the democratic movement in Hong Kong?

Hong (H): We are a private company so need to make money, but we do so on two principles: political freedom and market freedom. We think that individuals ought to have their rights and the market ought to be allowed to work in maximum freedom.

Our company has bronze statues of Sir John James Cowperthwaite, Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman. These men symbolize our principles. Our founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying was a good friend of Friedman’s. The Scottish school of economics established by Adam Smith, along with Hayek and Friedman are heavy influences in Hong Kong. That is why we supported the democratic movement.


The Impact of the “Occupy Movement”

I: From your perspective, was it successful?

H: The Occupy Movement wasn’t successful because the Movement was not able to bring any changes to the government. But it was successful in the sense that it generated a lot of energy especially among the young people. For a long time Hong Kong was a city where people did not have to get involved in any political activities. After the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, however, there was a pledge made that Hong Kong will be an autonomous government. The promise was never delivered, and now legislature for electing our own Chief Executive is rigged. It is clear injustice. The Occupy Movement was trying to make the government fulfill its promise, so the Hong Kong people can rule Hong Kong.

You have this grave censorship: the Chinese authorities want to take, to screen out, any anti-Chinese sentiment in any movie. This is not the kind of thing that Hong Kong people are accustomed to. Hong Kong is a very open city, an open society, and we know what freedom means in other places around the world.
The Hong Kong people really feel a greater affinity with Japan because of the issue of freedom. We talk of basic human rights, and they certainly see more of that in Japan than in China. Young people in Hong Kong draw a lot of inspiration from all the young people around the world, and from Japan: and again, it’s “why do the Japanese have all these rights; why do we not? And are we not equally human beings?”


The Price of Standing Alone as a Voice for Freedom of the Press

I: Could you tell us about the freedom, or lack thereof, in the press in Hong Kong?

H: This city is very peculiar. During the colonial time, we had altogether 2 – 300 newspapers in Hong Kong. But now, of course, with the Internet, all that is gradually on the decline. But for a long time, Hong Kong had a very active and vocal press. Then, after the transfer of sovereignty, most of the newspapers veered towards the Chinese side because business people who wanted to have a close relationship with China bought them. South China Morning Post is an example. Our Apple Daily is the only one left standing independent.


I: Did you face any difficulties as a newspaper that is trying to protect Hong Kong’s freedom?

H: Yes. During the Occupy Movement, we had this entire place encircled to block our publishing, and we had almost nightly confrontations outside the gate. And of course more damaging was the boycott by The Hong Kong-Shanghai Bank, which was followed by almost all the business organizations boycotting us. So we have been really suffering pretty badly in terms of advertising revenue. We have endlessly been sued. Our boss has also been the subject of all kinds of threats like firebombs, and a plot to murder him.


Xi-Jinping Tightens His Grip

I: There was news that some booksellers were abducted from Hong Kong by Chinese authorities. Do you think Hong Kong’s freedom of expression is being voided as Xi Jinping tightens his grips on the media?

H: Yes, I think it is getting more ominous. Nobody can really come up with a good explanation of what happened. I think it was a threat, telling people not to do that anymore. In fact the Hong Kong basic law does not say that you can’t publish things that the Chinese leadership doesn’t agree with; and Hong Kong’s basic law promised freedom of speech, press freedom, but that’s not what we are getting.

I think that it is very good and important that despite all this, Hong Kong people are making a resolute stand saying, “We are not going to stand for this.”


Hope for a Democratic Hong Kong

I: How will you continue to cultivate the democratic spirit in the Hong Kong people?

H: All we can do is to carry on what we’ve been doing. We want the Chinese to stick to their “One Country, Two Systems” promise and we will keep on advocating personal freedom and market freedom. We agree with the Wall Street Journal: “Free people, free market. The two are inseparable.”


I: Is there anything we can do to be of use?

H: Well I think you’ve done the Hong Kong people a great service by coming here and reporting on our situation. That’s a great help. I think eventually, the opinion of the world will make a difference here. But this is a battle we have to fight ourselves and eventually it will have to be carried on by the young people.


I: So what is your hope for Hong Kong’s future?

H: We have to be hopeful that one way or the other, change will take place in the direction of personal freedom and market freedom. Are you familiar with the term “Happy Warrior”? We’ll carry on fighting, and in a high spirit. And that’s the only way to do it.

Hong Kong’s Freedom of Press Threatened
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