Analyzing Hard News Coverage of the Hong Kong Protests

This essay examines three reports, given by three different news organization released on the same day, concerning the Hong Kong anti-extradition protests. The essay evaluates the reports on three journalistic criteria - objectivity fairness, context and relevance





Hong Kong, Objectively

Beginning in the Spring of 2019, and continuing well into 2020, the Hong Kong protests generated significant press attention. Known as the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement, the Hong Kong government’s passage of the Fugitive Offenders Amendment triggered the mass demonstrations. This bill granted extradition for criminally convicted Hong Kong citizens to mainland China, thus combining the historically separate democratic Hong Kong and authoritarian Chinese legal systems. Due to the protest’s major political implications, considerable amounts of foreign and domestic press were spent covering its developments. This essay will discuss three distinct hard news reports which took place on June 16th, 2019. The first article, written by the Hong Kong Free Press, is titled, Hong Kong Protestors Occupy Roads Around Gov’t HQ Again, As Huge Anti-Extradition Law Rally Escalates. The second piece, Hong Kong Extradition Bill: Protestors Return to Streets Despite Suspension, is from the B.B.C. The last hard news story is a video Newsroom report by CNN, called, Thousands Continue to Protest in Hong Kong. For each of these stories, I will apply three journalistic criteria which are objectivity fairness, context and relevance.

First off, I will apply objectivity fairness to the article written by the Hong Kong Free Press. Objectivity fairness is the criteria which stipulates a journalist must remain impartial in her report by providing both sides of the story. The article, Hong Kong Protestors Occupy Roads Around Gov’t HQ Again, As Huge Anti-Extradition Law Rally Escalates, which does not include a byline, could more accurately report on both sides of the story. The piece presents support of the protestors’ viewpoint, but those of sitting governmental authorities or police were left out. In the second paragraph, the article states, “crowds left Victoria Park at 2:30 PM, marched through Wanchai and Causeway Bay chanting for Carrie Lam (Chief Executive of Hong Kong) to resign.” Later, the article quotes an interview with Dennis Kwok, a lawmaker in opposition to the bill. This lawmaker was upset that police had fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful protestors. He was quoted, “The Hong Kong people obviously will not accept a suspension of extradition bill. What they want is full withdrawal of the bill and responsibility to be taken by the person who ordered the shooting (of rubber bullets into the crowd) on Wednesday.” Besides a brief report on Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, announcing the government would suspend the bill’s official passage, there was no viewpoint provided from any sitting governmental authority. The Hong Kong Free Press was founded in 2015, in response to the territory’s declining level of press freedom and support of the pro-democracy movement. This explains why the HKFP gives a one-sided account to the June 16th protests – the organization was created with biased political stances.

In contrast, the B.B.C does an excellent job applying objectivity fairness to their June 16th protest movement report. In the article, Hong Kong Extradition Bill: Protestors Return to Streets Despite Suspension, Chief Executive Carrie Lam is quoted within the first section. The article, which does not include a byline, quotes Ms. Lam apologizing for, “causing ‘disputes in society’ over the bill.” A day earlier she had delayed the bills official passage after mass protests that week. Later in the piece, the B.B.C. reports that the Hong Kong government took a conciliatory tone with protestors by releasing a statement which maintains, “the government understood the protestors’ views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong.” While both these statements from the B.B.C. demonstrate objectivity fairness, the article excels at remaining impartial by including reasoning for the government’s initial passage of the extradition law. According to the B.B.C., the government created this bill in response to a murder which took place in Taiwan. Evidently, “the government had argued the proposed extradition bill would ‘plug the loopholes’ so that the city would not be a safe haven for criminals, following a murder case in Taiwan.” This background information clarifies the government’s purported reasoning for passage of the bill (though collusion between Beijing and Hong Kong political authorities may be suspect as well yet were not identified by the B.B.C). This clarification, however, does demonstrate a high standard for impartiality in the B.B.C.’s news reporting. The article also presents viewpoints from the protestors, therefore including both sides of the story. The piece quotes Chloe Yim, a 20-year-old first time protestor, who states, “If Carrie sees so many people come out, and still doesn’t listen – she’s being an autocrat who doesn’t listen to the people. Hong Kong people can’t accept that.” The B.B.C. remains unbiased by quoting both the protestors and government, thus achieving a high standard of objectivity fairness.


Lastly, I will analyze the CNN newsroom report for objectivity fairness. This news video, provided by Reuters, is a minute and 42 seconds long. CNN’s Anna Coren stands outside the Hong Kong Legislative Council where the protest crowd gathered for a mass demonstration. While the news video does not go into as much depth as the B.B.C. article, Anna Coren succeeds at objectivity fairness by reporting on both the government and protestors. Titled, Thousands Continue to Protest in Hong Kong, the broadcast begins by describing the mass crowds marching from Victoria Park to the Hong Kong Legislative Council. According to Anna Coren, after an hour and a half of marching, there were still streams of people exiting the metro trains to join the movement. The news video maintains the protests were peaceful, and no accounts of violence had emerged from demonstrators’ behavior. Anna Coren reports Chief Executive Carrie Lam had, the day before on June 15th, promised to suspend, but not withdraw, the extradition bill. This act did not satisfy the protestors who demanded a complete nullification of the bill and Carrie Lam’s resignation. The CNN news video gives concise hard news on events from the past 24 hours and retains objectivity fairness by providing both sides of the story.

I will now apply the journalistic criteria of relevance to the Hong Kong Free Press article - Hong Kong Protestors Occupy Roads Around Gov’t HQ Again, As Huge Anti-Extradition Law Rally Escalates. Relevance is the ability to make a news story interesting, typically through humanizing the events. While this article performed worst on objectivity fairness, the HKFP excels at relevance. The piece reports that governmental authorities and police labeled the protest a ‘riot’. If convicted of rioting in Hong Kong, an individual can face up to ten years in jail. Lam Ngali, a 38-year old University lecturer, told the HKFP in an interview he would not bring his kids to the rally due to the danger from potentially violent clashes with police. He states, “This is the first-time police have used rubber bullet guns. Last time I saw this was at Tiananmen.” Lam is referring to the June 4th, 1989 Beijing Tiananmen Square massacre where hundreds of thousands of Chinese protestors advocating for democratic freedoms were violently suppressed by the Chinese military. This interview shows the fear citizens have toward the Hong Kong government’s response to peaceful protests, thus humanizing the ongoing dangers in the movement. This article also provided a large photo gallery of pictures from the protest, which allows readers from the outside world to have a stronger emotional connection and interest in the protest’s developments. For these reasons, the HKFP does a remarkable job humanizing the story, and therefore provides a strong amount of relevance.

I will now apply relevance to the B.B.C. article, Hong Kong Extradition Bill: Protestors Return to Streets Despite Suspension. This article does a decent job providing relevance. However, the B.B.C. does not humanize the protests as well as the HKFP. The section which highlights relevance begins by describing demonstrators holding white flowers in honor of a protestor who died after falling from his balcony during a protest. This act conveys the Hong Kong peoples’ unity and shows a solemn respect they have for fellow protestors. Outsider observers are able to understand the commitment Hong Kong demonstrators have for each other and their stated goals. In addition, the B.B.C. reports demonstrators’ anger that the protest was characterized as a ‘riot’. The government’s classification of peaceful protests as ‘rioting’ escalated police response to violent confrontation with marchers. When discussing personal reasons for protesting, Mr. Ma, aged 67, stated, “Carrie Lam has ignored the feelings of Hong Kongers, and acted like it (the protests) were no big deal. Secondly, we are marching for the students who were brutally treated by the police. We need to get justice for them.” The students Mr. Ma is referring to were those shot at with rubber bullets. The brutal tactics deployed by police forces are reported in a manner which suggests those demonstrators are inspired to keep fighting for their beliefs. This quotation humanizes the story giving people around the world a glimpse into the reality of life for Hong Kong protestors.

I will now apply relevance to the CNN news video, Thousands Continue to Protest in Hong Kong. Due to the video’s short length and strict hard news analysis, this video does a poor job of providing relevance. There is no manner in which the reporter humanizes protestors’ struggles against police backlash or relays the emotional feel of the demonstration. Besides an aerial live camera shot of large crowds shown in the news video, there is no substance provided which could make an outsider relate with Hong Kong’s developments. The report does not even mention the police skirmishes with protestors which occurred the night before. The inability of CNN to provide relevance demonstrates the news video as simply a concise hard news report on the day’s events.

I will now apply the journalistic criteria of context to the Hong Kong Free Press article. Context is the inclusion of additional information and relevant background history providing reasoning for a reported news story. The HKFP does a decent job with context in the article, Hong Kong Protestors Occupy Roads Around Gov’t HQ Again, As Huge Anti-Extradition Law Rally Escalates. The report discusses the extradition bill, and states the Hong Kong government had, in February, proposed an amendment which would grant the city case-by-case extradition requests for jurisdictions with no prior regulations. Not only does the HKFP provide context of the bill’s legal technicalities, the articles provided background information on prior protest movements in Hong Kong. Ken Tsang, a protestor who was assaulted by police forces in the 2014 pro-democracy umbrella movement, places the 2019 demonstration in comparison. He stated on recent police tactics, “It was extremely violent, much more than they should do. They didn’t feel sorry at all.” Providing this information from a demonstrator who personally experienced police brutality is useful. This context compares the degree of violence in the 2019 anti-extradition law movement to past demonstrations. In this manner, the HKFP achieves a decent standard of context.

I will now apply context to the B.B.C. article, Hong Kong Extradition Bill: Protestors Return to Streets Despite Suspension. This piece does a fantastic job providing relevance to the story. The B.B.C. compares the extradition law protests to the 2003 Hong Kong demonstration against security laws. The article states on the current protests, “The scenes are reminiscent of 2003 – when half a million people protested against proposed national security legislation. The unpopular chief executive at the time, Tung Chee-hwa, resigned months later.” This contextual information compares calls for Ms. Lam’s resignation with former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. This background is important because the reader may speculate on the future of Ms. Lam’s position (although she remains in power to this day). In addition, the B.B.C. excels at providing context by designating a section to the historical background of Chinese – Hong Kong relations. This portion describes the Chinese secession of Hong Kong to British traders smuggling drugs into China during the First Opium War in 1841. Great Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, under a “one country, two systems” protocol. According to the article, this principal, “ensures that Hong Kong keeps its own judicial independence, its own legislature and economic system.” China refers to Hong Kong as a “special autonomous region” yet maintains constant pressure so Hong Kong acts in the interests of Beijing. China also retains control of Hong Kong’s defense and foreign affairs. The B.B.C. provided an adequate amount of background information to the hard news story, which allowed the reader to acquire an understanding of the Hong Kong demonstration’s historical implications.

I will now apply context the CNN news video, Thousands Continue to Protest in Hong Kong. The piece does a decent job providing background information, though not as well relative to the other stories. Towards the end of the report, CNN’s Anna Coren discusses how there is much more at stake than withdrawal of the resignation bill. She states, “protestors are fighting for freedoms Hong Kong has enjoyed for 22 years since British handover.” This is the only context provided in the short news video. Since this hard news piece is so concise, providing context was a difficult task. However, in the little time provided for context, the reporter does a decent job conveying the demonstration’s importance through background information.

When ranking the three news reports on all criteria, the best article is from the B.B.C., followed by the CNN news video with the worst article written by the HKFP. The B.B.C. performed phenomenally in delivering all three journalistic criteria – objectivity fairness, relevance and context. The CNN news video comes in second due to its concise analysis of hard news. While the HKFP performed better in delivering relevance and context, CNN was able to maintain a much higher standard of objectivity fairness. This is the most important criteria, since the essence of journalism is to remain impartial in delivering the facts. The HKFP had the lowest standard for objectivity fairness, most likely due to the organizations support for the demonstrators. This suggests, sometimes, foreign news organizations are better at covering ongoing domestic stories rather than local ones. In conclusion, all three news organizations presented fascinating accounts to the events occurring in Hong Kong on June 16th, with each presenting facts and interesting insight for their readers.



Works Cited

"Hong Kong Extradition Bill: Protestors Return to Streets despite Confusion." B.B.C., 16 June 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48649077. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

"Hong Kong Protesters Occupy Roads around Gov't Headquarters Again, as Huge Anti-Extradition Law Rally Escalates." Hong Kong Free Press, 16 June 2019, hongkongfp.com/2019/06/16/breaking-hongkongers-march-thousands-extradition-bill-calling-leader-resign/. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

"Newsroom Video." CNN, uploaded by Reuters, 16 June 2019, www.cnn.com/videos/world/2019/06/16/hong-kong-protest-extradition-bill-coren-nr-vpx.cnn. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.




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