As Chinese students cross the border into Hong Kong, a sudden and unknown feeling crosses them. It’s a feeling of liberation, brought on by the free press and internet access that Hong Kong enjoys.

The simple act of creating a Facebook account, something we take for granted, is blocked in China, on the grounds that it could create dissent in the masses.

According to Michael J Jordan, who taught journalism in a Hong Kong university, one Chinese student described going back to China without social networks as "like being a human, then going back to being a primate".

Yet as the region falls into political turmoil, the freedom of the press and the internet is being undermined.

Current protests for political autonomy from Beijing have created an increased sensitivity from Chinese officials, leading to higher levels of self-censorship from the press.

Add to this an increase in the number of journalists attacked in the region, and you’re left with a hotbed in which the press fear for their lives and censor themselves accordingly.

The real importance of the web

This is where the internet grows in importance. While leading editors of the Hong Kong press can be easily identified and attacked, the potential for anonymity on the web allows journalists, especially those who focus on investigation, to report on controversial subject matter without being easily tracked.

It means that something as small as opening a Facebook account can be an act of open political defiance.

These troubles are failing to dissuade the employment market, too. As reported by many recruitment agencies, employers are still predicting a healthy job growth, and universities still hire European journalists to encourage the challenging of authority.

Continuing the fight

Indeed, the press freedom still on offer in Hong Kong is in full view during the current protests against dictatorial bureaucracy from mainland China.

As thousands take to the streets to campaign for democratic elections, the mere fact that the press can report it shows that the media has not become a lost cause.

Despite external pressures – one columnist lost his regular slot for the Hong Kong Economic Journal, supposedly because of concerns from Beijing – the press has continually fought for its autonomy.

And the more people on mainland China who realise the liberation that can come from open social networks, a free press and the ability to voice dissent, the higher the likelihood of a sea change in Chinese policy.

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