A study funded by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has found that while online media in Hong Kong have largely been professional when reporting on issues related to race or ethnic minorities, their readers were more likely to discriminate.

Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

Scholars from the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) and the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong reviewed 341 online news articles published by online media outlets as defined by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, and nearly 7,400 reader comments on those articles between January and September 2020.

Yuan Wang, the principal researcher from CityU, said the study found only one news article that involved racial discrimination, and three that used pejorative or stereotypical terms when describing ethnic minorities. He did not elaborate further.

City University of Hong Kong scholar Yuan Wang, meeting the press on May 20. 2022. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

By comparison, around 350 reader comments – 4.7 per cent – included bias, stereotypes or discrimination against ethnic minority groups; and 4.3 per cent, or around 315 comments, used pejorative terms.

Ferrick Chu, the executive director (operations) of the EOC, said the findings were within the watchdog’s expectations. He said the content posted by online media was “more or less OK,” but comments from netizens were “more offensive” as they might be ignorant to the consequences of their actions. Chu admitted it was difficult to educate people online.

“They like to be free. They don’t want to be responsible. They don’t want to attend seminars, so it’s difficult to attract them to attend education programmes. So public education is really important. And basic education is really important,” Chu said.

Ferrick Chu, Executive Director (Operations) of the Equal Opportunities Commission, meeting the press on May 20, 2022. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

He added the EOC had long encouraged education about racial discrimination in schools.

The watchdog also admitted it was hard to clamp down on online harassment related to race because most of the time, the comments could amount to racial “bias” or “stereotypes” but did not meet the legal threshold of “discrimination.”

The EOC said it would organise more workshops for stakeholders such as media and social media platforms, encourage bystanders to speak out and report inappropriate comments online and make better use of social media for public education.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.