Society

Society

Australia passes media law forcing tech giants Facebook and Google to pay news publishers

Digital platforms including Facebook and Google will now have to pay Australian news publishers, under a new law, the world’s first, passed by Australia on Feb. 25.   Under the News Media Bargaining Code, tech firms are obligated to pay news companies if they have an annual income exceeding AU$150,000 (HK$905,585), a move seen to mostly benefit Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns most of Australia’s major newspapers.   If tech companies do not pay, then they will be fined  AU$10 million (HK$60.1 million) or 10% of the annual turnover of the digital platform.  The code also allows news companies to negotiate payments with tech firms over the next three months. If they do not reach an agreement by that time, arbitrators from the Australian Communications and Media Authority, a government statutory body, would make the final decision on the payment. "For every $100 of online advertising spend, $53 goes to Google, $28 goes to Facebook, and $19 goes to other participants," said Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer of the Australian government at a press conference.  Facebook suspended hundreds of pages from Australian news outlets, personal blogs and government departments on Feb. 18 following the amendment proposal.  The social media giant said in a statement in August last year that it will stop people from sharing local and international news if the law is passed.  “Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram,” the statement said.  The platform also said in a statement that the code “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship” between its platform and publishers who use it to share news.   Facebook accepted the code after last-minute changes to the bill, which included a three-month negotiation period with an additional two months for mediation between …

Society

Hong Kong district councillors required to pledge allegiance to government or face a 5-year election ban

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang announced that District Councillors may be required to pledge allegiance to the government, under a proposed amendment to the Public Offices (Candidacy and Taking Up Offices) (Miscellaneous) Ordinance.  Violators will be barred from running for office for five years.  Mr Tsang introduced a list of rules that disallow district councillors from running for office. The behaviours that are not allowed include committing acts which endanger national security such as refusing to recognise China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, involving foreign government interference in the city and advocating for “Hong Kong independence” among others.  “I believe that, if according to the list, the individuals are sincere in upholding the Basic Law and swearing allegiance to the SAR government, they won’t have to be worried,” Mr Tsang said. Under Article 6 of the national security law, residents “who stand for election or assume public office shall confirm in writing or take an oath to uphold the Basic Law.” The ordinance also contains a clause that will remove any councillor who is “declared or decided” to have failed to fulfill the requirements of bearing allegiance to the city.  The first reading of the bill will commence on March 17. The second and third reading will be decided in the second quarter of 2021, according to the  LegCo document.  “If they disqualify a councillor, who came from the election, actually they are not only disqualifying us, but also disqualifying the citizens,” said Wong Tin-yan, a district councillor for the Lai King constituency.  The district councillors are also required to sing the national anthem of China as part of the proposed oath-taking requirement. Mr. Tsang said that four incumbent pro-democracy district council members --  Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen, Tat Cheng and Fergus Leung --  would be expelled from …

Society

HKBU cancels World Press Photo exhibition prematurely

The World Press Photo exhibition, scheduled to open on Mar. 1, was cancelled prematurely by its host Hong Kong Baptist University. On Thursday, four days before the opening, HKBU released a statement saying that now was “not an appropriate time” to hold the exhibition due to “consideration to campus safety and security” and “the need to maintain pandemic control.” Senior Lecturer and Director of International Journalism concentration at HKBU, Robin Ewing, said, “The university management made the decision not to hold the exhibition for safety reasons. We are disappointed that our students and the people of Hong Kong will not be able to see the exhibition in person. It’s a real shame that the current political climate doesn’t allow for such a compelling global work of visual journalism to be shown. ” Ms Ewing is a faculty advisor to The Young Reporter. Organizers of the exhibition had planned to implement pandemic-control measures, including the mandation of mask-wearing, completion of a health declaration, temperature screening and limited entrants for social distancing. The Netherlands Consulate General in Hong Kong that funded the exhibition was “disappointed” about its cancellation.  “The exhibition bears testament to the important work photojournalists do all over the world in bringing us the stories that matter,” the Consulate General said on Facebook. “In these uncertain times, it reminds us that a free and independent press is vital for maintaining stable and resilient societies.” Users on Twitter speculated the cancellation was due to exhibition photos of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests in 2019. Dot Dot News, a pro-Beijing online propaganda site based in Hong Kong, published an article on Feb. 22, saying that the exhibition would “display photos taken during the period of ‘black violence’ a year ago that aimed to beautify rioters and provoke anti-police sentiment.”  The article specifically …

Society

Budget Address 2021: Hong Kong government rolls out plans to rescue the tourism industry

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: Shameel Ibrahim、AMALVY Esten Carr Claude Ole EriksenEdited by: Simran Vaswani
  • 2021-02-24

  Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced HK$934 million for the pandemic-stricken tourism sector in the budget address on Wednesday morning. He said, HK$169 million of the allocated budget will be used for local cultural, heritage and creative tourism projects, such as the Yim Tin Tsai Arts Festival and the City in Time. More than HK$2 billion has already been injected into the tourism industry. An additional HK$765 million will be reserved for the Hong Kong Tourism Board.  He added that the relaxation of social distancing measures will allow local tour groups to resume as long as public health can be protected. “Sectors such as airlines, travel agents, tour operators and some retail, it [the pandemic] has been disastrous,” said Professor Brian King, Associate Dean at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Hotel and Tourism Management. In Hong Kong, the tourism industry is one of the city's major economic sectors. According to HKTB, Hong Kong received over 59 million visitors in 2019 and only over 3 million in 2020.  Hong Kong’s airport has been closed, only allowing the city's residents from overseas to land following strict quarantine and immigration measures. The two other borders -- the Shenzhen Bay Port and the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge -- have been shut.  Mass-layoffs have been made in airline industries such as Cathay Pacific, the city’s flagship airline. It’s sister company, Cathay Dragon, permanently shut down. The unemployment rate, which is at 7%, is the highest Hong Kong has seen in 17 years.  A low-interest loan scheme for unemployed Hong Kong residents was also announced in the budget address. The loan is capped at HK$80,000 per person targeting some 250,000 unemployed residents.  Prof King said that the loan scheme will aid tourism sector workers, who can now find other sources of income as the …

Society

Budget Address 2021: No cash handout amid recession; $5,000 e-vouchers for eligible residents

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced in his budget speech Wednesday there will be no cash handout for this financial year. But electronic vouchers of HK$5,000 will be issued in instalments to each Hong Kong permanent resident and new arrival aged 18 or above to encourage local consumption. The measure, which involves about HK$36 billion, is expected to benefit more than 7.2 million people, Mr Chan said.  The government has not said yet where the vouchers can be spent or how they will be given out. “The HK$5,000 e-voucher cannot tackle the current situation and provides limited support to citizens who have been struggling throughout the pandemic,” said Owan Li, Tai Kok Tsui North district councilor.  The numbers have been grim. Under the global sweep of the coronavirus, Hong Kong’s economy has shrunk by 6.1% for two consecutive years, hitting the highest annual decline on record.  The unemployment rate surged to 7% in the fourth quarter of 2020, reaching a 17-year high.  Tourism-related sectors are hard hit as they reached the highest jobless rate since SARS in 2003.  Retail, accommodation and food services sectors have suffered a surge in the unemployment rate to 11.3%. Tourism sectors have frozen with extensive global travel restrictions, and the export travel service plummeted by 90.5% “I actually agree with the government decision to not launch another cash handout since it has not been effective,” said Angus Chan, an employee dismissed from the InterContinental Hotel during the pandemic and now works in the Rosewood Hotel.  He has one to two no-pay leave days per week at the new job, and some of his shifts are cut, he said.  As the world continues to restrict travel, the hospitality industry is uncertain about when it will recuperate from the pandemic. Small and medium enterprises are hoping the …

Society

A third of pupils back in classes after schools agree to COVID rules

Students from about 2000 schools can now resume half-day classes while schools can have a full half-day resumption if all members of staff have the COVID-19 test every 2 weeks. But The Professional Teachers Union doubts if the frequent testing is needed for teachers.  

Society

Mosques in the city reopen following relaxation of Covid-19 social distancing measures

Hong Kong’s mosques opened on Feb 19 for prayers after being shut for almost three months.  Members of the Muslim community flocked to the mosque following the announcement from the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong - the official body representing the city's Muslims. All five official mosques are open to conduct prayers with social distancing measures in place.  The city's mosques have been closed since December intermittently every two weeks which were put in place to combat the fourth coronavirus wave.  “It was a sense of relief, a sense of joy,” said Adeel Malik, chairman of the Muslim Council of Hong Kong.  He added that many Muslims were longing for the mosques to open, but also noted that the government implemented strict measures for the larger good of the community.  The opening of the mosques coincided with the weekly Friday prayers, which is an important day of the week for the Islamic faith.  Religious sermons are held during Fridays on issues in both the Muslim and wider communities in Hong Kong.  One of the weekly sermon topics were "Lessons from Lockdown", where Mufti Muhammad Arshad, the chief Imam of the Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Centre urged the community to unite against the pandemic regardless of race or religion.  Muslims came to the city as sailors in 1829, working for the British-owned Jardine Matheson, a shipping company.  By the 1850s, the growing Muslim community led to the formation of the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund, which became the official representative body for Muslims in Hong Kong.  

Society

Ma On Shan historical iron mine landmarks to disappear under rezoning plan

Wong Mei-fong, 55, still remembers her childhood summers in Pun Shan, a small village in the New Territories in Ma On Shan: catching shrimp in the rivers of the backyard garden, playing with mud with her neighbors who also helped them to renovate their house and playing hide-and-seek behind the old tree of the village temple.  These places will only be retained in memories if the amendment to the Ma On Shan Outline Zoning Plan passes. The Wong family represents three generations of villagers born and raised in this former iron ore mining village. Now, Pun Shan is marked for redevelopment in the amendment to Ma On Shan Outline Zoning Plan, originally approved in 2016 to develop 814 hectares of land. The new proposal will add  9.67 hectares from seven green belt lands, the size of approximately 27 football fields, and will cut around 3,560 trees, according to the villagers. The village land will be developed into a private estate and government, institution and community lands.  A group of villagers are actively protesting the amendment, working with district councillors and local green NGOs and setting up social media accounts to raise awareness. Villagers have held around 10 demonstrations to raise awareness of their plight. “My parents don’t have much energy to protest and some of the elderlies are not familiar with social media, so we as the younger generation, take up this job to reach out to the public and attract more people to take part in preserving Pun Shan Village,” said Wong Yuk-hong, 29, the son of Ms Wong and the organizer of the rezoning plan protest. As one of the oldest mining villages in Ma On Shan, Pun Shan village witnessed the mining industry from its beginnings in 1906 to prosperity and finally to its closure in 1976. …

Society

Privacy concerns drive people away from evening dine-in

Despite relaxed social distancing rules and resumed dinner service, some Hongkongers still won’t eat out over the fear of personal data collected by the authority as the government requires all diners to record their detailed information for potential virus tracing. Eateries can resume dine-in service until 10pm with a maximum four people per table from Thursday, as long as they fulfill prerequisites, including staff getting Covid-19 tests every two weeks and diners recording personal information by scanning a QR code through the official “Leave Home Safe” app or by other means. The government’s controversial contact-tracing app has raised public concerns over privacy issues and abuse of data, as it will access user phone storage. Despite some online calls for boycotting the app, as of Thursday, the app download has surged to over 1 million since its launch in mid-November and seized the top position in the App Store.  “I see no reason for customers leaving personal information when eating out,” said restaurant operator Ryan Lo Tsz-yeung. “Our restaurants also have no right to ask for diners’ information.” Health officials have said on separate occasions that the virus-exposure app will only let the government know “who was present at the venues at a specific time” for potential tracing, while the encrypted data will only be stored in user phones for 31 days. Hong Kong Baptist University’s “BU-Trace,” launched last October and led by Xu Jianliang, Associate Head of the Department of Computer Science, is an alternative to the official app, Prof Xu said. “People can use other apps to check whether their information has been transferred to servers if they are skeptical of the government,” Prof Xu said.  Prof Xu also said the government could make their app open source, meaning publishing the software code for people to inspect the operating …

Society

“No experience, no technology, no talent”: how poor supervision of tech investment in China lead to a waste of funds

  • The Young Reporter
  • By: CAO Jingyi、Li Shiwen、Mereen Santirad、Wang ZiweiEdited by: Janice Lo
  • 2021-02-17

Hongxing Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (HSMC), a government-backed manufacturing project in Wuhan, has gone belly-up. The 128 billion yuan (HK$153 billion) project is now just an abandoned construction site. The weeds have grown over what is supposed to be the floor of the factory. Local authorities reported that the project was stagnant due to “poor planning and shortage of funds”. The semiconductor business in China has a history of fraudulent players. Two decades ago, the much-hyped Hanxin microchip project, also known as “heart of the Han” processor was later discovered to be a scam. Workers at the plant were simply replacing Motorola brand chips with the Hanxin logo.The developer, a university professor from Jiaotong University in Shanghai, was found to have stolen the technology from Motorola. He was later found guilty of fraud and banned from state funded projects. In July 2020, Dekema (Nanjing) Semiconductor Technology Co. Ltd declared bankruptcy due to “financial difficulties”, leaving behind 19 billion yuan (HKD$23 billion) in unpaid debt and wages. China’s state council set a goal to become a global leader in the semiconductor industry by 2030 and aims to produce 70% of the semiconductor by 2025. The central government put up about 764 billion yuan (HK$465 billion) in the industry over the five years, including 388 billion yuan (HK$465 billion) from provincial and municipal governments, according to the report by the Central for Strategic and International Studies. However, the plan to create a domestic semiconductor industry was just a little successful due to “no experience, no technology, and no talent” of the semiconductor industry, for instance, HSMC.  The company received 15.3 billion yuan (HK$18.3 billion) funding for the operation in 2019, according to the Wuhan Municipal and Reform Commission.  By July 2020, HSMC was already in trouble. Construction of the factory had stalled since …