Notes from the Nobel Peace Prize presentation ceremony

Chan Pui-man - Assistant Editor in Chief, Apple Daily

[中文][Jan 2011 - The Journalist When I returned to Hong Kong from Oslo, Norway, the Southern Metropolitan Daily from Guangzhou had already published a large photo of the 'empty seat’ on its front page.

I could not help but applaud our mainland counterparts for this.

It was reported that the mainland media were barred by the authorities from reporting the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony, with the exception of Xinhua News Agency whose reporters were on the spot to cover the event. As a result the Hong Kong media became the main ‘representatives of media of China’ covering the event in Oslo. They included several local electronic media and a few local newspapers.

News reports around the world on Liu Xiao-bo being awarded the
Nobe Peace Prize were exhibited at the Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway,
but none was from mainland China.
(Kindly provided by Chinese news of Radio Television Hong Kong)
Questions were asked about why only a few media outlets were there. In one instance a frontline reporter urged supervisors to send reporters to Oslo to cover the ceremony. The response was lukewarm. The queries raised by the supervisor were whether it was worthwhile going as Dr. Liu Xiaobo and his family members would not be there. Besides, the live telecast of the ceremony was good enough, etc. However, the reporter rebutted all answers by stating the fact that much more money had been spent on covering overseas visits of Chinese leaders with news-value that was pretty much the same as the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

I also heard that a media outlet decided to send reporters but was too late to meet the deadline for media accreditation. It was speculated that this media only changed its mind when it realized that all its competitors had sent reporters to Norway.

Every news media had its own consideration. I am not suggesting that sending a reporter to Oslo means fulfilling the responsibility of media. However, how the Hong Kong media judge the value of a news event and how a decision is made is an ‘interesting’ topic for study.


The first stop of my Nobel Prize reporting trip was Prague, Czech. I interviewed Vaclav Havel, the author of Charter 77 and others associated with the Charter. I then moved on to Oslo to cover the event. I met some European reporters who were interested in knowing the views of Hong Kong reporters and people towards the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize to Dr. Liu.

To them, reports from Hong Kong media were one of the main sources for them to understand the views of the Chinese. Since the media on the mainland are barred from reporting the award to Liu Xiaobo, even the names ‘Liu Xiaobo’ and ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ have become taboo, so the western media have no way of getting the true views of Chinese people apart from the continuously severe condemnations of the award by the spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.


As a matter of fact, western reports on the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee were not all in support of awarding it to Liu. Some Europeans think that the Norwegian Nobel Committee represents western interests and the Nobel Peace Prize embodies western values; the first ever award of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident is to forcibly impose western values on China. The European leftists are sensitive to western hegemony and thus questioned the decision of the committee. This questioning was one of the main issues at the press conference held by the Norwegian Nobel Committee President, Thorbjorn Jagland, one day before the ceremony.

The former dissident of communist Poland, known as the ‘Polish intellectual architect of the democratic movement’, Adam Michnik rebutted this query when he attended a forum organized by the Chinese diaspora's democratic activists the day after the ceremony. He said: “We don’t divide jail to left jail or right jail. Jail is jail.’

The Nobel Peace Centre organized an exhibition to introduce Dr. Liu. Reports from different print media around the world were posted near the entrance. There was no report from mainland China. The absence of reports from the mainland clearly demonstrates the difference. Among the exhibits, news reports from the western world are varied, some agreed with the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and some objected. According to the curator, it embodies the true meaning of freedom of speech.


We all knew in advance that the focal point of the ceremony is the empty chair. However, when I was inside the hall where the ceremony was being held, listening to Mr. Jagland’s speech explaining why they presented the award to Dr. Liu, witnessing the reaction of the guests on the floor, and watching Mr. Jagland putting the certificate and the medal on the empty chair, it was difficult to remain calm.

This empty chair, as people said, would be another symbol of fighting for democracy in China, 21 years after Wang Wei Lin stood in front of the tanks.