Leung Chun-ying 'failing' on press freedom, says journalist group

Journalist association says the past year has been the worst for media since the handover

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 7:43am

Leung Chun-ying has been accused of failing to honour most of the pledges he made on press freedom in his campaign for the top job. The Journalists' Association also claims the chief executive is indifferent to a rising number of attacks on the media.

The accusations were made in the association's annual report on freedom of expression, released yesterday. One of its authors says the past year was the worst for press freedom since the handover in 1997.

The association found that Leung's administration, in its first 11 months in office, disseminated news in 182 written statements. This was done, the association says, to dodge further press enquiries. Leung's predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, issued only 22 statements in his first 11 months. The written statements include ministers' blogs.

"If you write blogs or issue written statements, you just give your own story. Journalists have no way to raise queries on issues that the public is concerned about," said Mak Yin-ting, former chairwoman of the association and one of the report authors. "It's a cowardly act not to take questions from the media and explain in press conferences."

Anonymous briefings were also a concern. Mak said the current administration was not shying away from the practice - in which journalists must quote government sources anonymously - although it was being used slightly less than before. Leung's government used them for 20.4 per cent of its news in the period, compared with 24.4 per cent by Tsang's administration.

Most news was disseminated via doorstop interviews.

Mak also said Leung had done nothing about a freedom of information law, which he promised to enact in a charter he signed with the association during his chief executive campaign.

In the report, the government is also accused of indifference towards the rising number of violent attacks against journalists and media outlets in Hong Kong and on the mainland. It says 18 cases of journalists being assaulted or harassed had been reported in the past year - compared with the previous average of one or two serious cases a year.

Of the 11 cases in Hong Kong, the attackers were punished in only two cases. One was in February, when a Post photographer was assaulted while taking pictures of parallel-goods traders in Sheung Shui. The defendants were convicted of common assault, fined HK$1,000 each and given community service orders.

And the government showed little concern for the seven mainland cases, the association said.

"This should not be how the government treats the personal safety of Hongkongers, let alone how it defends press freedom," Mak said. "If the government acts like it doesn't mind at all, that sends out the message that attacking journalists and press freedom comes with no price."

She said the government should urge its mainland peers to follow up, or issue a complaint.

Mak said the planned amendment to restrict access to directors' particulars in the Companies Registry and the lengthy process to grant new free-to-air TV licences were also a concern. She said press freedom was at its worst since the handover.

A government spokesman said information was released via different channels for reporters' convenience. He agreed that Hong Kong journalists should be respected when they were trying to do their job on the mainland.