"Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword”, so wrote playwright and politician Lord Edward George Bulwer-Lytton 182 years ago. It was written when journalism was an honorable profession and journalists were known as “Gentlemen of the Fourth Estate”.
Sadly, that is no longer the case. Over the years, the press has been maliciously abused by politicians, governments and big-money moguls to sway public opinion for their own gain. The major newspapers of today are all politically driven, both domestically and internationally. There is no such thing as a truly independent newspaper. That is now a myth.
Any political news item is now labeled as propaganda and not to be believed, unless, of course, the reader follows the originator of the item. News is commercially driven to appeal to the widest possible audience or readership, and the more it is sensationalized, the greater its appeal and advertising potential. Gone are the days when truth mattered.
Recent examples of biased reporting include the coverage of Hong Kong for the past 12 months and during the run-up to its handover in 1997 when the prophets of doom forecast the death of Hong Kong. Instead, it flourished. The foreign media, particularly those from the United States, pretend they are saving Hong Kong from tyranny, and that they are defending human rights, freedom and democracy for the city. In fact, they are merely intensifying their usual China-bashing, which has become practically de rigueur in a US election year. This is in spite of the fact that in the 23 years since the handover, Beijing has done nothing to interfere with people’s lives in Hong Kong, and all their freedoms have remained intact. In world rankings, Hong Kong remains No 2 for order and security (World Justice Project: Rule of Law Index 2020) and No 3 for human freedoms (Cato Institute, Fraser Institute, and Liberales Institut of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom: The Human Freedom Index 2019). The US, by contrast, remains far down the list. But these facts are ignored by the foreign media (and apparently also by the local anti-government activists) and instead, they concentrate on China-bashing, which further distorts China’s image before their readership.
The foreign media, particularly those from the United States, pretend they are saving Hong Kong from tyranny, and that they are defending human rights, freedom and democracy for the city. In fact, they are merely intensifying their usual China-bashing, which has become practically de rigueur in a US election year
The US manipulation of the press is best described by former CIA operations director John Stockwell, who revealed in a recent film clip that one-third of his staff was involved in propaganda. He cited, as an example, how his operatives initiated stories in the press about Cuban atrocities when indeed there was none. “It was false propaganda to create an illusion of communists,” he said.
Unfortunately, the average reader is gullible and believes much of this propaganda. Common sense should prevail, but it doesn’t. The propaganda is brainwashing even the journalists who write falsehoods. They, except a very few, believe in what they write and abide by the hand that feeds them. A classic example is the traditional national papers in the US, UK and Australia toeing the lines of certain political parties during an election year.
At the behest of the US, many international media outlets condemned China’s introduction of a national security law in Hong Kong. Since the “Occupy Central” movement in 2014, Hong Kong rapidly became a hotbed for subversion and secession, fueled by US-inspired political propaganda. Something had to be done. Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which covers such security matters, failed to materialize due to the continued resistance. The National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, had no choice but to step in before this subversive campaign escalated out of control. To the thinking population and the international business community, the new security law buttresses the peace and security of Hong Kong, while the criminal elements flee to the US, UK and Australia.
The greatest blow to responsible journalism has been the advent of social media on the internet. Here, journalistic objectivity is replaced by a journalistic Wild West, and fake news is the order of the day. During the past year, there have been about 1,500 demonstrations at which 29 journalists were arrested by police, the youngest being 12 years old, claiming to write for a “student newspaper”. A number of “news” sites have been set up since June 2019 to allow activists to get behind police lines. The sites are also used by the activists to spread false information about the government and incite hatred toward the police. The issue has become so critical that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has said the police may be given more powers to monitor social media to tackle false and malicious information and rumors. It is also mulling a “code of practice” for the media to ensure the integrity of reporters.
The author is a former chief information officer of the Hong Kong government, a PR/media consultant, and a veteran journalist.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS