The people’s voices are heard, their movements have also been transformed into spectacles. Hong Kong’s protests have been very well captured by international media recently. What moves the audience are the passion from young people, protecting their (national) identity through what some call the ‘last battle’ for Hong Kong – to fight against an extradition law to be implemented. These events could well be included in world history textbooks, as a lesson to be learnt for the next generations. As usual, the media (mostly western, by western here I refer to those who think they report for ‘democracy’ but yet, where the term neither has been fully explained for each different context) supported the protests unapologetically with sympathy – indeed emotionally.
The protesters have made it to the international political stage, the world is watching, as they sing ’you look wonderful tonight’ and Les Mis. The ongoing debates have also captured high level attention, foreign secretaries from the UK, Europe and the US have expressed their concerns, although as usual, vaguely. People around the world are curious why such extradition law matters so much to the local citizen and they deserve to know the reasons. Things have not become quieter, certainly not on July 1st, the anniversary of Hong Kong SAR’s handover from Britain to China. It is urgent, therefore, for international media to fulfil their responsibilities, to intervene and maximise the space for public debates, beyond circulating sentimental images that simply construct a ‘Good Vs. Evil’ binary.
Any event, including protests or rhetoric, is always far more complicated to be explained in a binary logic. What the media needs to challenge here, is an attempt not to give an answer to the public, but to provide as much background information, as well as questionings as they can. In order to legitimise the protests and to take Hong Kong protesters’ passion further, journalists and writers alike need to create a space to inform, to accommodate public discussions and to enable analysis from all sides with equal attention. This practice can only be done without any pre-assumption of the situation or pre-judgements.
Some crucial questions need to be raised by media in their reports, to help facilitating wider debates and questioning:
What exactly is the extradition treaty that Hong Kong people protest against?
What caused the proposal of this bill (details need to be provided regarding the Taiwan murder case and its ongoing debates)
What was the background of this treaty and what are the detailed legal clauses?
What does it propose to do?
Does Hong Kong have other similar treaties signed with other countries, if so, what are the terms and how exactly is this one different to the others?
All these questions need to be addressed with detailed information for the public to think through. To provide what medias need to accommodate further explanation on to the international public, here are some necessary references:
U.S.-Hong Kong Extradition Treaty (1996/7)
Hong Kong currently has agreements in extradition with 30 countries. While there is scope for discussions, regarding how the proposed Treaty can be revised or withdrawn as well as potential improvements of China’s justice system in order to encourage more treaties to be signed with other countries.
Let’s all pay full respect to those protesters and their voices, but the only way to legitimise their passion is to seek a productive solution going forward. For this, international media is responsible in facilitating long lasting public debates. As we know, sentiments only last a while, we surely do not want to see these meaningful events to be consumed as another neoliberal entertainment.
Hiu Man Chan is currently associated with JOMEC via an AHRC funded project about UK-China film collaboration (2019), as Principal Investigator. She also writes for the UK-Chinese Times as a columnist and tweets @h_onfilm.