Setting the scene for Digital Media Asia's Hong Kong

Media freedom has an altogether different meaning in Hong Kong, where I arrived yesterday evening ahead of WAN-Ifra's Digital Media Asia event.

I'm at L'Hotel Island South - a dark and dated, but otherwise very adequate accommodation costing me a fraction of the conference Hong Kong Ocean Park Marriott - but where visitors are assured they will be "mesmerised by stylish rooms and top facilities set against a stunning hillside backdrop". No comment, other than that the promotional origami in my room might yet do the mesmerising before the room does.

Across the road, all is change with street corner businesses continuing to trade as the bamboo scaffold grows around them in preparation for more new building now accessible to the South Island MRT line via Wong Chuk Hang station, from which an endless stream of locals is coming and going. In my mind, I'm condensing the names of the two locations to South Park, and imagining instead an endless stream of animated folk with beanies and rounded heads.

At Starbucks - poorly reviewed online and strangely bereft of branding - my order is wrong the first time, but an apparently untouched copy of the South China Morning Post's HK$12 (A$2.24) read fills me in under the lead front headline, 'Police tactics get more aggressive'.

'Proactive' is the word used by senior superintendent Wong Wai-shun (yes, really) at a media briefing after last weekend's latest protests. The paper reports that an SCMP video journalist had been hit by a projectile, while a freelance journalist claimed reporters' masks had been ripped off and they had been pepper-sprayed by police.

On an inside page, columnist Alex Lo names Australia with Canada and the US, as countries where anyone who speaks out about the protests is likely to be harassed.
The protests are likely to continue, but life goes on, whether that means finding better ways of identifying police who commit such acts, or moving wedding plans to the middle of the week. Elsewhere, impacts include a half-filled flight from Brisbane and an apparent scarcity of tourists at the airport.

That's today's Hong Kong reality, as residents come to terms (or not) with the hand-back of the island to China and its inevitable outcome.

And life certainly goes on for Alibaba, parent or sister company through its founder Jack Ma, of DMA host SCMP. Its business pages report the e-commerce site (from which Ma formally retired last month) has signed Taylor Swift for its "signature" singles day shopping spree in Shanghai in November, modestly describing the former country singer as "by most measures the biggest recording star in the planet". Incidentally, the paper - which notes that Swift did a similar gig for rival Amazon's Prime Day a few months back - writes that the Alibaba call comes, "at a time Washington is trying to contain the Asian nation's ascendancy".

Watch this space.

• Digital Media Asia opens tomorrow with a welcome from SCMP chief executive - and WAN-Ifra APAC chairman - Gary Liu, and continues with a strong programme until Thursday. A masterclass on 'Digital disruption and transformation of marketing: How to save the relevancy of your advertising business', led by Grig Piechota, is already underway.

Peter Coleman

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