Editorial:The Press's Concern about Definition of Sedition

【明報專訊】Two former senior staff of Stand News, a Hong Kong news website, were charged yesterday (30 December 2021) with ''conspiracy to publish seditious publications'' after they were held on suspicion of violating Sections 9 and 10 of the Crimes Ordinance.

Hong Kong media has always been known for the high degree of freedom it enjoys. Since the handover—even after the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law—reports and comments critical of the government's mistakes in governance have never ceased to be heard. At the same time, this is also an extremely sensitive issue. The press and the general public have often expressed worries about whether press freedom has been undermined. The SAR government has repeatedly emphasised that it respects press freedom and the spirit of the rule of law. Yet, after the shutdown of Apple Daily in June this year (2021) amid allegations of its violation of the National Security Law, another media outlet is now being accused of publishing seditious articles. The main focus has turned to whether there are any ulterior motives in pressing the charges.

The legal clauses prohibiting the publication of seditious articles in Hong Kong's criminal law are over one hundred years old. In the past, it was seditious articles that caused hatred or contempt for Her Majesty the Queen or the Hong Kong government that were barred from publication. After the handover, what is protected has become the central government and the SAR government. During the colonial era, the British Hong Kong government invoked the regulations at least twice. The first time was in 1952, when officers dispatched by the Guangdong Provincial Government to send condolences to the Tung Tau Estate fire victims in Hong Kong were stopped at the Lo Wu border crossing, which resulted in a riot and the fatal shooting of one protester. Ta Kung Pao was suspended by the court for publishing reports and reprinting comments published on the People's Daily. The central government intervened, and the matter resolved itself 12 days after the suspension of publication. The second time was during the large-scale riots in Hong Kong in 1967. Three leftist newspapers were said to have published seditious articles and were each ordered to suspend its publication. Several high-ranking members of the newspapers were sentenced to jail.

The notion that both the Hong Kong government and its people hold the rule of law in high regard is unlikely to be disputed by anyone. There is no reason why the people should not believe in the rule of law. Citizens demand that the government should comply with the clauses of the legal system and the spirit of the rule of law in governing the city. At the same time, it is the responsibility and obligation of citizens to obey the law. On this issue, the press and journalists enjoy no privileges. More importantly, they should not take advantage of their media platforms and their status as a journalist to act beyond the boundaries of their duties.

Journalists also have another role to play, namely to supervise the government's administration on behalf of the general public and to safeguard the public interest. They have a responsibility to expose government policies that are inappropriate and a mission to criticise officials who have failed to discharge their duties. It is believed that the press in Hong Kong will maintain its professionalism. The government should support the press in discharging its duties with legal principles and policies. Now that an extremely sensitive case has emerged and attracted widespread attention, it must be handled with care—there's no good in adding to the panic of the already-worried journalists. Before the court reaches a verdict that would formulate guidelines on what is meant by sedition and thus, what journalists should steer clear of, the police should disclose the contents of the articles involved in the Stand News case in an appropriate extent for journalists to reference. This could also go a long way towards reducing the likelihood of journalists recoiling from the industry and mitigating their anxieties.

明報社評 2021.12.31:媒體涉發布煽動刊物 傳媒人關注煽動定義






■/ Glossary 生字 /

conspiracy:a secret plan by a group of people to do sth harmful or illegal

ulterior:(of a reason for doing sth) that sb keeps hidden and does not admit

mitigate:to make sth less harmful, serious, etc.


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