All Hon Wah students are required to subscribe to the local pro-Beijing newspaper, Wenweipo. Principal Kwan Wing-bun says the school chooses the daily because it has the largest China coverage and carries many reports about China’s history, culture, society and technology.
The school’s national education has inculcated Jeffrey Lau Tsz-leung, a Form Two student, with a strong sense of national identity. Lau strongly identifies himself as “Chinese from China” and says he reads the Wenweipo although he knows it favours the central government.
But Lau’s classmate Alex Yung Wing-chun, feels differently. He is more comfortable identifying as a Hongkonger. Alex never reads the Wenweipo ordered by his school but prefers the Headline Daily and Yahoo news. He dislikes the strict control and severe corruption in Chinese society.
Wong Chi-ming admits the national education promoted by his centre mainly focuses on the positive aspects of China. However, he says negative aspects are also discussed. “Open a newspaper, and 90 per cent of the coverage on China is negative,” says Wong. “Ocassionally, there are one or two positive news stories such as the Chang’e rocket and the Olympics. But they only account for a small amount.”
Chinese University’s Eric Ma believes the media serves as a balance to the one-sided voice of mainstream national education. He says Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and diverse media means people have information about the negative and political aspects of China. Sensitive issues, such as the jailing of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and tainted milk activist Zhao Lianhai can be freely discussed.
In Varsity’s survey, university students ranked the media as having the most influence on their sense of national identity, closely followed by teachers.
However, Mak Yin-ting, the chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA), questions the idea that the media should play a role in balancing uneven voices in the community. She says the role of media is to be positive about positive things and negative about negative things. “If they put more money into promoting a one-sided national education, is the media supposed to report more negative things? … It is ridiculous; it is not what the media’s supposed to do,” she says.
What is more, there are signs the media are becoming more “careful” in their coverage of China. In a survey conducted by the HKJA in 2007, 30 per cent of the journalists surveyed admitted they had practised self-censorship that year, and 40 per cent said they knew their colleagues or supervisor had practised self-censorship. This included downplaying issues and information unfavourable to the central government. Mak says the true amount of self-censorship is likely to be higher because not all respondents would admit to having practised it.
Mak attributes the rise in self-censorship to increasingly close commercial ties between media organisations and their owners to China. She says the moves by Beijing to appoint media owners and managers to the National People’s Congress or the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference are another factor.
Mak believes that national education should focus on producing civic citizens instead of national citizens and is critical of the way resources are being allocated in national education. “Why are they using public money to fund a one-sided dialogue to the public?” she says.