Self censorship “very serious” in Macau: political commentator

Thursday, October 23, 2008
Issue 505, Page 4
Word count: 438
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Dr Camoes Tam Chi Keong, the former vice president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association and cross-strait relations commentator, said yesterday that the “theft of state secrets” article of Macau’s anti-subversion law could further intensify local media’s self censorship.

The main concern about the National Security Law for media workers, Dr Tam said, would be on Article 6 “Prohibition of acts of theft of state secrets” that states that legal proceedings will normally be closed from the public.

“In past cases such as Ching Cheong and Wang Dan, no trial was staged because the Chinese government said it involved state confidence,” he said.

Ching Cheong was imprisoned from April 2005 to February 2008 after having been accused of providing state secrets to Taiwan in return for millions of dollars.

“Even the documents were verified by the mainland officials as state secrets, the public cannot be sure if they are real or fake,” Dr Tam said, adding “outsiders won’t know whether the accusations are just or the persons were framed.”

The commentator said if the National Security Law came into effect in the SARs, a “chilling effect” might result, in which media would become fearful of reporting sensitive issues sourced from the government or other means.

“Mainland China has lots of examples where police would arrest the persons first before the “state secret” documents were found,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Tam said laws of Hong Kong and Macau could not be compared as they adopted different law systems.

“Hong Kong’s common law system gives judges more space in deciding a verdict while Macau’s civil law system allows very small degrees of discretion by judges,” he said.

“I’m concerned a judge can’t even release the suspect even though the case is apparently unjustified,” he added.

Dr Tam said it would be “very terrible” if Hong Kong followed the same content of Macau’s anti-subversion law.

“Article 23 arouses concern of lots of Hong Kong people because their traditional legal system, which does not have any concept of subversion, suddenly has to include some components of the civil law system which tend to be more stringent,” he added.

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah at the press conference yesterday said “freedom of the press, information and publication” in Macau would not be jeopardised.

However, Dr Tam said the statement did not have much impact on the local media industry, adding “Macau’s press and speech freedom is always much less than in Hong Kong”.

“It’s not because Macau’s current laws don’t provide people the protection, but certain political, economic and social pressures lead to a very serious self censorship in Macau,” he added.

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