Macau gaming hub press freedom in spotlight as China steps up scrutiny

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At a meeting at the Portuguese unit of Macau’s public broadcaster TDM on March 10, two senior journalists addressed around 25 staff, reading new editorial rules requiring them to promote “patriotism, respect and l ‘love’ for mainland China.

The measures targeting Macau’s largest broadcaster were detailed by two people present at the meeting and mark the first time that the Portuguese-language media in the former colony have been directly targeted by the authorities.

Since the meeting, at least six journalists have resigned, the sources said.

The world’s largest gambling center, with 700,000 people, has always been portrayed as a poster child of Beijing’s “one country, two systems” style of governance alongside neighboring Hong Kong. The system promises extended freedoms not seen in mainland China, including a free press and an independent judiciary.

“We knew things might change one day, but it came as a total surprise to us,” said one of the Portuguese journalists present at the March meeting. They declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The new TDM guidelines came about two weeks after Hong Kong announced an overhaul of its public broadcaster, RTHK, amid accusations by authorities that it had an anti-government bias.

Pressure is mounting on Macau’s Portuguese and English media, which generally operate with more flexibility than the local Chinese press, which has faced strict censorship for more than a decade, reporters said.

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Portuguese media in Macau, for example, covered extensively the Hong Kong protests in 2019, while Chinese-language media there remained largely on the sidelines.

The Macau government has stated that all news agencies have the freedom to set their own editorial guidelines and that it continues to respect and uphold the principle of press freedom as stipulated in the Basic Law of the Republic of Macao. city.

The Hong Kong government and TDM did not respond to requests for comment.

However, like Macau, the Hong Kong government said the rights and freedoms remain intact.

In a public statement in March, TDM said its editorial policy remained unchanged and would continue to “live up to its social media responsibility and adhere to the principle of patriotism and love” for the city.

Pressure is mounting on Macau’s Portuguese and English media, which generally operate with more flexibility than the local Chinese press, which has faced strict censorship for more than a decade, reporters said. | REUTERS

Red line

More than half of Macau’s population has immigrated from China in recent decades, which has helped foster a stronger affinity for the mainland than in Hong Kong, where most residents were born in the territory.

Beijing generally praises Macau while issuing stern warnings to Hong Kong that it will not tolerate any challenge to its authority. But Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests have entangled Macau media through their coverage and caught the attention of Beijing, Macau experts said.

“People supporting Hong Kong, it was not allowed. There is a sensitivity about Hong Kong, ”said Eric Sautede, a former Macau university professor, who said many TDM journalists from the English and Portuguese section have traveled to Hong Kong to cover the protests. .

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“For them it was something big, how could they not cover it up?” he added. “In retrospect, you would suspect that they crossed the red line, they showed a little too much independence.”

Paulo Coutinho, director and editor of the English-language Macau Daily Times, said the TDM incident was a consequence of what had been happening since November 2019, when China publicly warned that it would firmly respect its interests in sovereignty, security and development.

“Entities that represent the Chinese government, they organize events and send messages. People… want to give more space to China’s opinion, ”he said.

The Macau Portuguese and English Press Association has expressed concern about GDT’s new guidelines, in particular that staff are not allowed to “convey information or opinions contrary to central government policies. of the PRC ”.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the measures taken by public broadcasters in Hong Kong and Macao and urged the two governments to “stop their attacks on press freedom”.

‘Wild Horse’

Connie Pang, a freelance journalist in Macau and former director of the Macau Journalists Press Association, said what the Portuguese media are experiencing now is what the local Chinese media have seen over the past 10 years.

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“Now maybe the Portuguese TDM news is the only wild horse left, so they also want to impose the red line on him,” she said.

Macau, the world's largest gaming hub and home to 700,000 people, has always been touted as a poster child of Beijing
Macau, the world’s largest gaming hub and home to 700,000 people, has always been portrayed as a poster child of Beijing’s “one country, two systems” style of governance alongside neighboring Hong Kong. | REUTERS

Journalists at many small Macau media outlets are more cautious as they rely heavily on government subsidies.

“They don’t want us to be just neutral, balanced. They want us to support… the Chinese Communist Party, ”said another senior journalist, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Some Portuguese journalists said the fury had so far not affected their reporting.

Jose Dinis, publisher of Jornal Tribuna de Macau, a Portuguese-language newspaper, said he felt no pressure.

“I don’t mean the wolves are coming. At the moment, I don’t see any problem, ”he said.

However, some Macau residents, such as lawyer Jorge Menezes, see the crackdown on TDM as the first step in broader censorship of English and Portuguese-language media.

“There is no resistance in Macao; we can see what China wants to implement here and what it would like to do in Hong Kong and elsewhere, ”he said.

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