HONG KONG - Press freedom came under the spotlight when the world's largest
media-oriented non-profit organization chose this British colony as the site of
its second international office.
The Freedom Forum's Asian Media Center
was opened on Jan. 17 by controversial governor Chris Patten, known for taking a
tough line with the Chinese in discussions over Britain's hand-over of Hong Kong
to China in 1997.
Entitled "Voices of the New Millennium: Asia's Changing
Media", the opening ceremony was jointly held by Patten and Freedom Forum
Chairman Allan H. Neuharth. It was attended by dozens of academics, media
leaders and regional journalists.
Hailing the occasion, Governor Patten
said: "Your presence [The Freedom Forum] in Hong Kong underlines Hong Kong's
continuing role as the Asian media capital. It will help to protect and enhance
He reiterated the importance of press freedom in every
society which he said could not be defined as a free state without a free press.
"It's no good having a freely elected legislature without a free Press
to report its activities," said Governor Patten. "If you can't question
governors and governments, then you soon end up with not just bad government but
corrupt government, bullying government, imperious and ultimately, perhaps,
The American-based Freedom Forum is financed by
an endowment fund established by Frank E. Gannett in 1935. The non-profit
organization is headquartered in Virginia, with an international office in
Switzerland and assets of $720 million.
Its mandate is to "promote ideas
of free press, free speech and free spirit to all people" and the forum spends
$30 million a year on media studies and journalism training in many countries
around the world.
A report produced by the forum assessed that the media
in Asia served as "a barometer of industrial, technological and economic
development and as a looking glass to observe societies grappling with the
tensions of modernization".
The report noted the nations of East Asia,
with few exceptions, had become media societies. Gov. Patten said it meant huge
opportunities and responsibility for Hong Kong to join and benefit from the
substantial economic growth in the region.
"For if we are to reap those
economic rewards, then Hong Kong, its government, its press, its people, must
stand up for press freedom here, both before and after 1997," he
The new center in Hong Kong will focus on two main issues in the
region: threats to press freedom and the media's role in reporting Asia's
economic boom, according to The Freedom Forum's monthly report.
so much we can do to promote journalism education and training, professional
development and free press initiatives," John Shidlovsky, president of the Hong
Kong center, said in the report.
"Each country in Asia is different, and
we'll take a country-by-country approach," he added.