Hong Kong’s news museum to turn its gaze on recent anti-government protests (but not just yet)

Fiona Sun

Hong Kong’s media and journalism museum has promised to exhibit news coverage of the recent anti-government protests, as it celebrates its first anniversary.

But curators at Hong Kong News-Expo, Asia’s first dedicated museum on the subject, said it was still too soon for such a retrospective.

The protests – the city’s biggest political crisis since its return from British to Chinese rule – have made international headlines. Peaceful demonstrations as well as violent clashes between masked, black-clad protesters and police have grabbed coverage in newspapers, on radio and television stations, and online.

“Such an event is unprecedented in Hong Kong,” said May Chan Suk-mei, vice-chairman of News-Expo. “We will surely stage an exhibition on it, but the time for it is ripe only when comprehensive materials are collected to ensure the exhibition is objective and respects history.”

May Chan, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong News-Expo, said any protest exhibition will take time to compile. Photo: Nora Tam

News-Expo opened last December at the renovated former Bridges Street Market in Central, a grade-three historic building from 1953. It took five years of planning and development, at a cost of HK$85 million in government funding.

Apart from the 12 permanent exhibition sections including those on newspapers, radio, television and new media, it has launched six exhibitions based on news events, including the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the equestrian events of the Beijing Olympics of the same year, which were held in Hong Kong.

Situated in the hub of the city’s earlier newspapers and printers, the site has attracted about 50,000 visitors over the past year, less than the expected 70,000, Chan said, blaming the onset of unrest. More than 30 groups cancelled visits from August to October.

Big events like this need time to settle down before we can think about how to exhibit the issue in a comprehensive, objective way

Chairman of News-Expo’s programme committee Professor Clement So

News-Expo has not steered clear of controversial or politically sensitive issues. It has staged exhibitions on Hong Kong’s 1967 riots, the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, and the 2014 Occupy movement, in which pro-democracy protesters paralysed parts of Hong Kong for 79 days.

“We will exhibit all the big events that have a significant impact on the city and its development to let the public view them from different perspectives,” Chan said.

She said the preparation of the exhibition on the political unrest, sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill, would only start after it is over. News-Expo will conduct in-depth research on news coverage of the political turmoil, looking into all media reports from different political perspectives, and consulting historians, sociologists and journalists, she said. They will also conduct interviews with reporters and people involved in the protests.

An exhibition on the media coverage of the city’s anti-government movement will be challenging to curate. Photo: Sam Tsang

News organisations and their staff have been targeted during the ongoing protests. Some media outlets deemed pro-Beijing, including the city’s largest television station TVB, have been attacked by protesters, while some reporters have accused police of targeting them and obstructing their reporting.

Professor Clement So York-kee, chairman of News-Expo’s programme committee, is confident about the future exhibition, but cautions against rushing into it.

“Big events like this need time to settle down before we can think about how to exhibit the issue in a comprehensive, objective way,” he said.

The challenge of staging the exhibition lies in the collection of materials, Chan said, given the extensive media coverage. But she promised to be objective and fair in exhibiting media coverage from different political perspectives, to help the public better understand the issue.

“Hong Kong is a place where we should respect press freedom, which is a major cornerstone and element in the city’s success,” Chan said. “It is a good thing that different media with different political stances can all exist in the city.”

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