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SOPA Chair condamns Article 23
Cyril Pereira

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ADDRESS TO The Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) Editorial Awards, 26th June, 2003
Cyril Pereira, SOPA Chairman

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the fifth year of the SOPA Asian Editorial Awards and a particularly significant one.

In less than two weeks, the Hongkong Government is going to put its Article
23 Bill to vote in the legislative council. It is expected to pass as the legislative council is stacked with a comfortable majority of pro-administration votes. Steve Vines in his column in the HK-Standard last week referred to the legislative council as the ˉHouse of No Shameˇ. Not only did the legislators (minus the democrats & independents) complete a super-fast reading of the entire Article 23 amendments at high speed in one sitting, they also voted not to have any further discussion of it. To illustrate Steve Vinesˇ opinion piece, Gavin Coates the cartoonist, drew a huge toilet flushing down from the roof of the Legco building. That is what government in the Hongkong SAR seems to have come to.

Hongkong has been a unique media base for local and international publishers, in the robust traditions of its free and unfettered press. The question now is how long it will take to erode press freedoms and destroy the culture of lively debate on air and in the press? Public accountability of government bureaucrats and corporate businesses is already a joke.

As the international publishing industry assesses these developments and factors in the impact of the reduced advertising caused by the sustained global recession, the continued location of regional headquarters in Hongkong will be increasingly questioned, in direct ratio to the erosion of safeguards for the media business.

Let us not forget that for more than three decades, international publishers have based their headquarters and key staff in Hongkong despite the high rents, office expenses, salaries and living costs, precisely because the free flow of information, freedoms of speech, public debate and vibrant health of the media, were valued at a high premium and publishers were willing to pay the price for that precious quality.

As a financial and services economy, the free and timely flow of critical information is vital to Hongkong’s economy.

When businesses value their investment options you don’t hear of “Hongkong risk” as a factor. Business can calculate its returns easily in this city. You always hear of the ˉChina riskˇ premium on any investment over there, due to the lack of transparency, lack of free access to information, and general opacity of decision-making. That is the key difference that the value that a free press means, to
Hongkong. It is at the very core of Hongkong’s economic success.

The Society of Publishers in Asia has taken the unusual step of joining the
HK Journalists Association and the Press Photographersˇ Association, in calling for media professionals to participate in the July 1st march, to protest the unnecessary provisions and sloppy legislative process of the Article 23 Bill.

Platitudes and assurances from civil servants are not good enough. Their tenure is temporary and they don’t make policy. If the press will not stand up for itself, no one else will.

As chairman of the Society, I would urge all our members to make the effort to add our weight as concerned individuals and media professionals, for this great city. My five-year old will be with me on July 1st. She was born here and speaks Cantonese fluently. It is her city and her future, more than mine.

It is time we get out of our air-conditioned offices and send a clear message on Article 23 to this administration and affirm our solidarity with fellow media practitioners. We hang together on this, or we will all surely hang separately.

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