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Press center to preserve freedom

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

that role."

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,

tyrannical government."

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

said.

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.

"There's

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.

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