It is all too easy for people who work for a Party poodle paper to believe that independent, truth-seeking journalism is rare and over-rated, if not impossible.

So we have Mr Alex Lo, writing in the paper formerly dubbed, if only by itself, “one of the world’s great newspapers” (times have changed) announcing that the local media are split into two hostile camps, with the implication that they are both as incurably biased as each other.

Freddy Lim. File photo: Freddy Lim, via Facebook.

Mr Lo’s ire was aroused by the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association. But given his incurable preference for tackling the man rather than the ball, we had to wait to hear what the association had done while we were told that it was “closely aligned with the anti-mainland and anti-communist ideologies of the yellow-ribbon localist movement and some anti-China publications”. So it had lost all authority.

Then we get to the beef, which concerns a story in HK01. This consisted of an interview with a Taiwanese heavy metal musician and politician, Freddy Lim, who had been barred from Hong Kong.

HK01 put at the end of this a little note stating that HK01’s editorial stance was against independence for Taiwan.

The HKJA comment on this was, apparently, “We hold the view that it is unnecessary for HK01 to state their position in their news report. Doing so will give rise to worries that the media might have something to fear when they report sensitive issues.”

Mr Lo says that if HK01 wants to put little notes at the end of its stories this is none of the HKJA’s business, with which I agree. People who are easily worried shouldn’t be in the news business.

Alex Lo. Photo: Screenshot.

He then goes on to say that it is not unusual for “responsible newsgroups or any public institutions to clarify their stances while dealing with controversial issues.” Not relevant.

Leave the public institutions out of it. Public institutions only come across controversial issues in their work, so clarification is an obligation.

The situation of the news media is rather different. Readers are entitled to expect that the news will not be bent to suit the “stance” of the publication on controversial issues. In order to make this graphically clear, it is usual to separate the opinion pieces from the news pieces. The newspaper’s own opinion is expressed in editorials, not in the news coverage.

If the opinion is from an outsider he may ask for a small note saying that the opinion expressed is his, and not that of his employer or an organisation he belongs to. But we do not put a little note at the end of each news story saying that the views expressed by interviewees may not coincide with our editorial stance. The readers expect that anyway.

When Mr Lo’s newspaper reported Junius Ho’s notorious dialogue – “kill them all … no mercy” there was no little note at the end informing readers that the newspaper’s editorial policy did not support mass murder of political opponents.

Junius Ho. File photo: Cloud.

Trailing in at the end of this little scandal we come to the conclusion that, in Mr Lo’s words, “the local news industry has been bifurcated into opposing camps.” This is interesting. One camp, presumably, is the “yellow-ribbon localist movement and some anti-China publications.” And what shall we call the other camp? The “blue-ribbon anti-localist movement and some pro-China publications”?

And to which camp would we allocate Mr Lo?

I believe that Hong Kong still accommodates publications and people in a third camp: those who believe in the possibility and value of independent, truthful journalism. And those who were in it, and now find themselves not in it, should take their 40 pieces of silver and shut up.

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.