Freedom ranking in Hong Kong and media crisis in mainland China

The ‘human freedom’ ranking has been published by the Fraser Institute (read this article on SCMP here). Surprisingly Hong Kong ranks third-best globally for human freedom, topping such well-established democracies as the United States and United Kingdom.

The ranking is calculated by looking at economic freedom (property protection, individuals’ engagement in voluntary transactions etc) and personal freedom (freedom of speech and religion, legal discrimination against homosexuals and women’s freedom)

Hong Kong scored 9.02 out of 10 on the economic freedom scale – no wonder in such a business-driven city. But in terms of personal freedom, or civil liberties, it measured 7.8, worse than at least 49 countries.

It’s difficult to establish how fair and meaningful such a ranking is, given that Hong Kong received lower scores for political expression and ability to form homosexual relationships. Data was also not available for fields such as sexual violence, freedom of speech and political imprisonment.

View from the Peak

Mainland China stands at 100th place and was given 5.1 and 6.44 points for personal and economic freedom respectively. That’s no surprise – but what is a surprise is the big media crisis about censorship that’s currently happening across the border.

Southern Weekly, a well regarded Chinese publication for its outspoken opinions and sharp criticism of the government, was ordered by Guangdong propaganda authorities to change its New Year editorial from a piece calling for outright political reform and abidance with the constitution to a tribute praising the ruling party. The authorities also ordered the newspaper to drop many critical articles or replace them with soft stories favouring the government. The newsroom staff went on strike to protest against censorship and even Wall Street Journal reported about them.

The populist Global Times ran an official response to the recent strike and protest at the Southern Weekly in its sunday Jan 6 edition. The editorial said Southern Weekly is merely a newspaper and should not challenge the system, as it appeared to be doing. It criticized the newspaper’s supporters, including Chen Guangcheng, the rights advocate persecuted by Chinese officials, who fled to the United States last year.

Propaganda authorities had ordered an unknown number of daily newspapers throughout the country to run the editorial in their Tuesday Jan 8 editions, but only a small number of newspapers complied on that day. The influential Beijing news did not publish the editorial after they received orders from Beijing Party censors to do so. But a Beijing propaganda official threatened to disband the newsroom and close the newspaper if they continued to disobey.

It eventually had to reprint the editorial yesterday on Jan 9, but the page editor refused to sign off on the page in protest. Journalists at the paper posted pictures on their microblogs showing colleagues weeping. Some were quickly deleted by online censors.

It will be interesting to see what will be happening next and if mainland China will increase its ranking for personal and economic freedom until the next freedom ranking takes place.

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