Supporting oppression over democracy is unacceptable

Big name companies are making the cowardly decision to side with the Chinese government rather than pro-democracy messages.

By Gabriel Arizon, Editor-in-Chief

Photo Courtesy of Reddit

Citizens in Hong Kong have been protesting for months for their civil liberties against the Chinese government, and people all over the internet have been showing their support for Hong Kong and its peoples’ fight for democracy. However, this past week has shown that large-scale companies and organizations sing to a different tune.

Whether it is intentional or not, entertainment and tech companies have spoken loud and clear that they would rather bend over backwards to appease an oppressive government than lose a dime over supporting human rights, and that is inexcusable.

The week started off with a now deleted tweet on Oct. 6 by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, which was an image that read “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” That single tweet caused Tencent, a Chinese telecom giant that made a $1.5 billion deal with the NBA to exclusively air their content back in July according to The Hill, to cease airing Rockets games. The Chinese Basketball Association, headed by former Rockets player Yao Ming, cut all ties with the NBA.

The organization scrambled to make an apology, stating that it was “regrettable” that Morey’s tweet offended Chinese fans. The NBA issued another apology — this one in Chinese — that said “[Morey] has undoubtedly seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese basketball fans.”

However, according to the Hollywood Reporter, that phrase is similar to one of the favored propaganda terms used by Beijing’s Foreign Ministry when Western brands and peoples support the Hong Kong protests. In short, the NBA used propagandist language to try and salvage their business relationship while throwing Morey under the bus. They shamefully chose to try and save their deal rather than stand by an employee that simply supported human rights.

Speaking out in support of Hong Kong has not only affected sports, but the realm of video games as well. The free-to-play online card game, “Hearthstone,” is currently having its international tournament called Grandmasters, where professional players compete for a prize pool of $500,000.

After one match on Oct. 6, Hong Kong player Ng Wai Chung used the post-game stream to wear goggles and a mask similar to that of the protesters and said, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age.”

Two days later, Activision Blizzard, the game’s publisher based in the U.S., removed Chung from the tournament, banned him for a year and rescinded the $10,000 prize money he was set to receive, according to IGN. In addition, two stream casters were fired for no other apparent reason than appearing alongside Chung when he made his message.

The company stated that he had violated tournament rules. However, considering a report by the New York Times said that Activision Blizzard earned 12 percent of its $1.4 billion total revenue from the Asia Pacific region during the second quarter of 2019, it is far more likely that they did not want to anger one of their markets.

The punishment itself is far too excessive for the ‘crime,’ and it took days of backlash from the gaming community for the publisher to reduce Chung’s ban to six months and give him his prize money, as well as reduce the two casters’ ban to six months.

The publisher failed one of its most prominent players because it lacked the spine to stand by a message supporting the protesters fighting for their democracy. It demonstrated that it cared more about the feelings of the Chinese government than that of actual people.

Acquiescing to the wants of the Chinese government is nothing new; Hollywood has been doing it for years. However, this recent trend of companies supporting the government at the expense of employees, fans and the people of Hong Kong is indefensible. These companies need to realize what message their decisions are sending; they do not stand for democracy if the price tag is too high. They would rather choose tyranny if they could still make a buck. The true irony here is that by choosing to side with China to save their brand, they have done even more harm.