BROOKE GLADSTONE: Early next week the government in Hong Kong will unveil the draft of a new anti-subversion law, and over the last two Sundays the measure has sparked huge demonstrations both in opposition and support. The crowd numbers are in dispute, but such protests are very rare in the streets of Hong Kong. The anti-subversion law is supposed to codify some loosely worded instructions in Hong Kong's mini-Constitution. It has some grave implications for free speech and threatens to end the 5 year experiment in quote "one nation - two systems" that has followed the former British colony's handoff to Chinese rule. Orville Schell [sp?], dean of the journalism school at the University of California at Berkeley and a long-time China expert, joins us now. Welcome back to the show!
ORVILLE SCHELL: Pleasure to be back on it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what is Hong Kong's mini-Constitution and how does it relate to the "one country-two systems" idea?
ORVILLE SCHELL: Well when Britain handed Hong Kong over to the mainland, they set up a thing called The Basic Law which was in effect a constitution for Hong Kong, even though Hong Kong was going to remanded to China and technically be under Chinese sovereignty. And one of the articles of that Basic Law said that at some time hence the autonomous region of Hong Kong would have to enact a provision for national security that would cover things like treason, succession, sedition and subversion, and last July a former foreign minister said that it was time to do that, so in effect, you know, the big foot in Beijing said we want you to pass this legislation and the Hong Kong government already has a reputation of being very much the creature of Beijing, so this is what set off the tension between the government of the autonomous region of Hong Kong and the people, and this is what brought people out into the streets. It was an amazing event! I mean nothing like this has happened since 1989.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:What about the consequences, then, for the press in Hong Kong? It was known at one time for being very free and vibrant, but we've noticed that that freedom seems to have drained away slowly since Hong Kong changed hands in 1997.
ORVILLE SCHELL: Everybody knew that everybody's economic bread in Hong Kong was buttered in China, and this meant that all the media outlets -- the magazines, the newspapers -- were looking for advertisements from companies who were wanting to expand in China. So it was this that put a very chilling effect on the investigative ardor of newspapers, on the editorial ability of a broadcast outlet to take extreme positions, because they didn't want to antagonize the big oligarchs of Hong Kong who would have normally advertised with them -- I think that, that as much as outright censorship by the government has been the dynamic that has been most profound in terms of its chilling effect on free expression in the media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So have you noticed then this chilling effect in the Hong Kong media as it reacts to the news of the anti-subversion law?
ORVILLE SCHELL:Well for instance when the 60,000 people demonstrated against this Article 23, I think there was only one paper that put it on the front page! Now what do you make of that? Well, I think it suggests that there is simply not a lot of sort of commercial advantage to be gained by covering stories that have a, have a potentially sort of anti-China cast to them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But what is it in the subversion law that actually would relate to the media? Would it actually make some subjects off limits?
ORVILLE SCHELL:Well, in the Chinese mainland scheme of things, to talk about the independence of Tibet as even a possibility or the independence of Taiwan or to feature the Falung Gong prominently in the press in a positive light is considered seditious, illegal and subverting of national security. So the fear is that if these things continue to be lofted in the Hong Kong press that China might take umbrage, and because it is seditious under their scheme of things, ultimately lean on Hong Kong -- and this fear is all the more real because when there are disputes, this would ultimately not be decided by the courts of Hong Kong but would go all the way back to Beijing to the National People's Congress which is basically a rubber stamp Parliament and does the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party. So you see this is the connection; this is where autonomy gets eroded -- where fundamental decisions about what should be covered in the media in Hong Kong are not adjudicated in Hong Kong but would be adjudicated back in Beijing. And this is what people fear.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thanks a lot!
ORVILLE SCHELL: A pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Orville Schell is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.