More than 10 days after the US presidential election, some disconsolate Hong Kong supporters of Donald Trump are still crying foul and accusing news outlets and journalists of biased coverage.

In Hong Kong, many people in the pro-democracy movement supported the Trump campaign, as they believed he would take a harder line on China than the election winner, Joe Biden.

"December 1 2019" protest Donald Trump
Photo: Studio Incendo.

“There is at least some element of the protest movement that see the Trump administration as their ally, because when they were looking for international solidarity and support for their protest movement last year, the US responded,” Antony Dapiran, author of City on Fire: the Fight for Hong Kong, told HKFP. “Biden was part of the Obama administration, and perhaps was seen as not as tough on China,” Dapiran added.

“There’s of course being a lot of media reports about the Biden family’s alleged business connection with China…some of the reports seem to be misinformation, but certainly it seems like to the extent that people in Hong Kong are receiving that misinformation and being convinced by it, that may be suggesting to them that for some reason Biden is going to be more friendly to China than the Trump administration has been.”

With many seeing a Biden administration as disadvantageous to the pro-democracy movement, some netizens insist – like Trump himself – that the US election has yet to be officially called.

“Wow, not even the government or court has announced [a Biden victory] yet, it’s only the media that says so, the media is helping [Democrats] steal the country,” said one Facebook comment. “Did the media take money from the Chinese Communist Party?” said another.

Meme mocking the alleged ballot dump in Wisconsin that has since been debunked
Meme mocking the alleged ballot dump in Wisconsin that has since been debunked. Photo: Internet.

Some also questioned fact-check articles disputing claims of voter fraud: “The case is now put forward to a court, how can you give verdict before the actual trial?” a netizen commented on Apple Daily’s explainer.

Masato Kajimoto, an associate professor of practice in journalism at Hong Kong University, said the phenomenon was not unique to Hong Kong.

“Fact-checkers are constantly questioned and harassed all over the world. When we don’t like the facts we are presented, many of us think it’s the media that are getting things wrong, not us. It is a natural psychological reaction. We all have confirmation bias,” Kajimoto told HKFP.

“The purpose of fact-checking should not be to change the minds of the audience right away. Its primary goal is to set the record straight and make sure that accurate information is available for people in the future.”

media press freedom newspapers
FIle photo: GovHK.

Many Hong Kong netizens also criticised the US broadcasters who stopped carrying a live stream of Trump’s speech.

“When the Hong Kong government uses the same excuse [stopping the spread of misinformation]to close down your news outlet, don’t use press freedom as a shield, because the government would have fact-checked and proved that your articles are baseless and harm public safety,” a netizen said in a critical commentary of an op-ed which supported the broadcasters’ decision.

Journalism professor Clement So, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the media must balance its role between guaranteeing the prompt delivery of news and acting as gate-keeper to catch misinformation.

“It’s normal that people have different judgements on this,” said So, “at the end of the day, there is no absolute answer, it all comes down to the availability of options. I think it is good that some broadcasters chose to stop while some continued, it creates a contrast and allows for different choices. The variation doesn’t cause detrimental harm to the public’s right to know, while highlighting the media’s role as a gate-keeper.”

Trump and the press
File photo: US White House, via Flickr.

The decision by social media platforms to flag up posts that contain misinformation, including Trump’s, has also become controversial in Hong Kong, with many saying the platforms are biased against the Trump administration.

“Why does Facebook not fact-check the Hong Kong police? They lie every day,” a netizen commented after Facebook flagged a local columnist who posted photos of allegedly abandoned mail-in ballots. The photos were taken in 2018.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have a responsibility in stopping the spread of misinformation, said So. “They have been previously criticised for letting fake news go unchecked but now the focus is on how it (fact-checking) should be done. We can have a conversation on what constitutes as ‘right’, but these companies are just correcting their previous approach, they certainly have their own reasoning.”

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.