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Report from the WTO Demonstrations in Hong Kong

The Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference was held in Hong Kong, 13-18 December 2005. Thousands of anti-globalization campaigners, especially South Korean farmers who has been opposing the opening of their rice market by an agreement South Korean government made with WTO, had protested across central Hong Kong, carrying huge banners, chanting, banging drums, and fighting with policemen of Hong Kong.

Most of the bloggers in Hong Kong who joined the demonstration against WTO personally were supporting the South Korean farmers’ appeals from the bottom of heart, which is similar to the demonstration for universal suffrage on Dec.4. HK bloggers played the role of not only civic reporters, but the practitioners of grass root power.

Majority of bloggers in the inmediahk (ZH) are strongly against WTO, and support South Korean farmers staunchly. They reported the daily demonstration using their first hand source. When the riot took place on Dec. 17, some of them were shot by water cannon, and nearly suffocated by tear gas and pepper spray. They condemned what HK police did against protesters, and described it was the shame of HK. Interestingly, if there was one person who expressed the different view with them, they besieged and censured him.

The Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong joined by HK’s reputable English newspaper, The Standard and the well-known EastSouthWestNorth blogger, Roland Soong established a dedicated blog style website for this WTO ministerial meeting named Curbside @ WTO .Curbside reported the daily meeting formally, and post personal feelings in the item of web log by its tens of master students in the journalism school. One of them, Jonathan Lee thinks Hong Kong Police's motto of “We serve with pride and care” is being exercised to the fullest, and he also believed that the unsung heroes of Hong Kong during the demonstrations are those street cleaners in HK.

The eloquent HK blogger, Glutter also joined the demonstration against WTO, and talked a lot about her observations and feelings in her rants during the meeting. She expressed deep disappointment to the protest in the WTO Diary: Genuine Concerns Turns First World Violent Entertainment. She said,

“the reason I left was I felt really disappointed by a lot of Hong Kong people who turned up were just standing around blocking the protesters and the police… The reason that really made me totally embarrassed and made me want to leave the whole thing was reading the “Declarations” of the Hong Kong hunger strikers. It was total bullshit, what they were demanding they wanted the negotiation on agriculture and fisheries removed from the WTO table meaning everything remains status quo and it doesn't help the cause at all”.

In her another post named Globalize Trade, Globalized Violence, Violence of poverty, and Having the Strength of Convictions to Deal with Consequences, she said,

“the police has my respect for being completely restraint. I have never seen such a lack of forward attack happen between police and protesters considering how violent it was. The South Korean farmers have my respect for having the strength of conviction with following up with what their threats were and dealing with the consequences with honor and respect. They put their bodies and lives at risk, they willingly put themselves out there because they feel they are being hurt by globalization and danced for hours and chanted for hours while surrounded by police in defiance and belief.”

Finally, she said, “all I can say is no matter what, how I feel is a complete failure of the Anti-WTO movement in being unable to express themselves in any logical way”.

Yahoo Hong Kong conducted a survey which 9594 people participate in as of Dec. 19. Responding to the question that if you agree with what anti-WTO protesters did, tremendously 68% of participants recognize, only 26% of them don’t. And yet 65% of the respondents think the action that HK police’s took against protesters are proper, even 14% of them consider it too tolerant. This is the public opinion of HK people. They love freedom and fairness, as well as rule of law.

50 comments

  • Dear Global Voices;

    I too am a student in the University of Hong Kong’s JMSC master’s program, although I don’t recall ever meeting Charles Feng. I’m also a contributor to OhmyNews International and have contributed to both the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong Standard and numerous other publications both locally and internationally.

    I take exception to the tone of this report. Feng has left out a very important issue that also occured in the city during the WTO and which has caused many here to express concern, including Amnesty International and Bishop Zen — the allegations of human rights abuses that protesters suffered at the hands of the police.

    Feng also refers to the student online site “curbsite” and its close relationship to The Standard.

    Firstly, as has been been noted by Elizabeth Tang, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong People’s Alliance, a local group coordinating the WTO protests and international commentators such as Jane Kelsey in Scoop, the Standard’s WTO reporting before, during and after the conference has frequently been unbalanced against the protesters and sensationalistic, fostering a climate of fear. I also concur:

    http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?
    menu=&no=263507&rel_no=1&back_url=

    http://english.ohmynews.com/ArticleView/article_view.asp?no=264291&rel_no=1

    http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?menu=&no=264727&rel_no=1&back_url=

    http://english.ohmynews.com/ArticleView/article_view.asp?menu=A11100&no=264911&rel_no=1&back_url=

    This is not to suggest that The Standard is not a “reputable HK English newspaper,” but only to point out that criticism of its coverage in this area is significant.

    Secondly, Feng also refers to the JMSC student project “curbsite” and I feel compelled to shed some light on what transpired in its creation by sharing my own personal experience.

    I was a student in Andrew Lih’s New Media class, but didn’t participate in the project. Lih didn’t give his students a choice about contributing — it was mandatory. I objected, citing that I felt The Standard’s participation would compromise our ability to remain independent. It should be noted that The Standard boasts proudly on its masthead: “China’s Business Newspaper.”

    I suggested alternatives and appealed to Lih for flexibility and asked to be provided a choice. He refused, dismissing my concerns and raised the issue of our grades if we failed to participate in this project.

    Only after I involved the deputy director of the JMSC, David Plott and threatened to ask for an investigation into the nature of this project from the University’s Faculty of Social Sciences were my appeals met and I was allowed to submit an alternative assignment.

    So the issue for me, and one which I plan to pursue, is the questionable relationship between The Standard and the JMSC. As a student directly involved, it looked an awful lot like collusion with “Big Media” and I certainly didn’t appreciate being forced to participate and not given alternatives. It’s worth noting that not one student report attempted to challenge The Standard’s coverage of the WTO or even referred to it during the conference.

    This is truly sad, because the site could easily have been just as relevant and beneficial w/o the involvement of the The Standard, or any other established daily. It’s also sad that a Masters program in Journalism went to such lengths as to force its students to collaborate with a project that involves so many questionable issues from an ethical standpoint. Issues which we as students of media should be examining, not dismissing.

    Finally, the Yahoo poll is interesting, but Feng’s somewhat trite summary misses the obvious point — that HKers feelings remain torn between the protesters and the police actions, not the “rule of law.” As is so often the case, wherever the WTO touches down it manages to to successfully divide communities. HK is no exception. We are still digesting what happened.

    In future, if Global Voices would like input from another source in HK I would be happy to offer my services. I receive all the updates and greatly value the efforts and work that you do. Keep it up! >:^)

    Sincerely,

    David Kootnikoff

  • Charles Feng

    First of all, I would say Global Voices Online only publishes those reactions from blogsphere. Therefore, I can’t talk about anything bloggers in HK didn’t mention in their writings except for some necessary contexts.
    Secondly, I’m MPhil, so I don’t need to take the new media class formally. But I once gave a guest lecture to that class. Moreover, I don’t care how Curbside runs. As I said, I care only about what they said. If I think they are biased, I won’t choose them.
    I think Global Voices will welcome you to join. We do need different voices only if they are objective. I think you can contact the editor of East Asia, Jose Manuel Tesoro (jtesoro@law.harvard.edu).

  • Charles,

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about — HK bloggers, including Glutter, Roland’s, curbside, and many, many others have been addressing the maltreatment of the detainees. What planet are you from?

    Please update your profile which reads — “I’m a master student in the Journalism School at the University of Hong Kong.” MPhil is quite different.

    And when you say “I don’t care how Curbside runs” all I can say is you should — you’re neglecting your duty and making Global Voices look very bad. You certainly displayed an interest in how inmediahk runs. Why not be fair?

    Finally, what occured in HK was not a “riot.” Anyone using that term is not a reliable journalist or blogger of any worth.

    Hong Kong deserves a far better representation of events than this on Global Voices.

    Sincerely,

    David

  • Charles Feng

    David, I don’t know how to communicate with you further, although you are my classmate. But I think you did good jobs, and just go your way.

  • Charles,

    You can contact me through the my website– alldaybliss.com — listed here with my name. Just click “contact” and I’d be happy to hear from you anytime. If not, I’ll continue doing my “good jobs” and I hope you attend to yours if you wish to represent HK on Global Voices.

  • Bob Faustus

    I think that if Kootnikoff wishes to criticize Curbside, he should also read Curbside and The Standard more seriously, or effectively, as several reports on both sites say that these were not ”riots,” but well orchestrated attempts at protesting that in one case, Saturday night, got out of hand.

    As a reader of The standard, I think that the hcoverage was balanced and Kootnikoff’s ranting seems like an ideological ax which he is quite noisily grinding away.

  • Hi Bob,

    Nope, no idealogical ranting at all, just accurate, corroborated reporting. Sorry you can’t seem to tell the difference.

    As I wrote, I’m not the only one who thought The Standard’s WTO reporting was poor. See here:

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0512/S00129.htm

    And as a contributor to The Standard, as well as an admirer of Executive Editor A. Lin Neumann, I know a little bit of what I’m talking about.

    Incidently, “riot” was used by Feng in his original “report”– I never wrote curbsite or The Standard used it.

    All the best,

    David

  • eswn

    As a particpant in the Curbside @ WTO project, let me state from the outset that there was no ideological position that I am aware of. It was an opportunistic situation, in which a bunch of people came together. We all have our own preferences, values, opinions, attitudes, but there was no centralized gatekeeper who decides what passes and what shall not pass. We were out there to prove that the sum of our individual efforts at Curbside would end up with a much louder voice for the diverse voices separately out there. You can decide whether that is true.

    With respect to my personal efforts, I will point out the following:
    (1) Charles Feng did not indicate that InMediaHK was a Cantonese-Chinese website and therefore inaccessible to English-only readers. ESWN acted as a bridge blog to bring their best blog posts into English, either through Curbside or ESWN. Nobody else is doing that. If you think InMediaHK is so important, you can help by bringing them to a global audience. I would applaud you for that.
    (2) I also tried to be a bridge blog for individual Cantonese/Chinese blogs WTO onto Curbside. Nobody else was doing that. These individuals are more important to me than any government department, NGO or whatever.
    (3) At Curbside, I wrote about my personal experiences, including watching cable news coverage for 16 hours straight about that so-called riot. I also wrote extensively about why this could not be called a riot, given the global standards or even by Hong Kong standards.
    (4) At Curbside, I related about my frustration about not knowing enough to link what was happening inside in the conference hall to the people who were protesting outside.

    I will say that the deep message of the discourse in this post distresses me. We are many people and we have our own opinions. I do not like the intimation that unless I agree with a specific opinion, I ought to shut up and go away. Curbside was rewarding to me precisely because nobody ever talked about what shall be talked about up front, nor what shall be censored/censured afterwards. The summarily dismissal of the project is extremely unfair to all the people who gave all their efforts both for their personal beliefs and solidairty with their colleagues in the project. Objectively, I would ask you: can you nominate any other non-mainstream media (such as blogs, forums, websites) that actually have the diversity and coverage of Curbside? Go back and read Curbside carefully before you respond.

  • eswn;

    I’m not sure who you’re addressing you questions to as you failed to specify. I’m also loathe to assume that you may be Roland Soong from ESWN as you didn’t identify yourself as such.

    Nevertheless, I’ll offer a response anyways — my criticism of curbsite is primarily based on my personal experience with Andrew Lih, as I detailed above. But I also think it suffered from it’s close association with The Standard — that’s my opinion and I’m certainly not alone.

    The substance of my original criticism was directed at Charles Feng’s original “report”. Specifically, his failure to address the highly significant issue of detainee abuse revealed a selectivity that was negligent. Furthermore, his propensity to single out inmediahk and characterize Saturday’s violence as a “riot” revealed an all too familiar bias that is not credible or accurate.

    And Ohmynews International is a very diverse, accurate, and interesting non-msm site. Please check it out and do consider contributing.

  • eswn

    david:

    None of my ‘criticism’ is directed at you at all on the basis of any of your comments with this post. If I can place it bluntly, it is directed at the original post by Charles Feng. Flatly stated, it was prejudicial!

    Insofar as Andrew Lih is concerned, I have no interaction with him for any of the Curbside @ WTO work. I dealt only with Susan Rossi and Vivian Kwok, who were the executive editors and who handled everything in a totally professional manner. I have no idea what the Standard’s involvement was because I had nothing whatsoever to do with them. Nor did I sense any pressure about what I can or cannot say from Susan and Vivian. Upon information and belief after talking to so many reporters, if real-life reporters have the same freedom and latitude from their real-live control-freak editors, we would be living in a much better world today.

    P.S. I sign myself off as ESWN but I am the person whom you know as Roland Soong. And I was one person who appreciated what you said that at the New Media & Social Transformation Conference.

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