Self-censorship 'common' in Hong Kong newspapers, say journalists

Poll of journalists reveals self-censorship and intrusion by owners a regular occurrence, and public have a negative view of media freedom

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 4:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 9:04am

Journalists in Hong Kong say self-censorship in the news media is common and owners or management regularly exert editorial pressure, while the public have a negative impression of the level of press freedom in the city.

Those are the findings of a new press freedom index which was carried out before two events that rocked the city's faith in journalistic liberty.

On a scale of zero to 10, where 10 indicates "very common", journalists rated media self-censorship at 6.9, while the public gave 5.4, as part of the first Hong Kong Press Freedom Index.

Journalists rated pressure from owners or management at 6.5, indicating it was also common, even worse than the public's impression indicated by their rating of 6.2.

Out of 100, the general public gave press freedom an overall rating of 49.4, seen as "slightly negative", while journalists rated it at 42, deemed a "definite negative".

The index drew on data from two sets of polls. The University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme surveyed 1,018 members of the public in December last year, while the Hong Kong Journalists Association interviewed 422 journalists from December 23 to February 4.

Chinese University journalism professor Clement So York-kee, who was involved in the creation of the index, said the results did not take into account the brutal attack on Kevin Lau Chun-to shortly after he was removed from his post as Ming Pao chief editor, or the abrupt firing of outspoken radio host Li Wei-ling by Commercial Radio.

The index might paint an even grimmer picture of censorship and press freedom in the city in the light of those events, So said.

HKU pollster Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu said the difference in responses between the public and journalists was very significant.

"On every question or component … journalists take a much more pessimistic view on the press freedom situation in Hong Kong than the general public," Chung noted. "This could be due to [journalists'] understanding of the industry."

Association chairwoman Sham Yee-lan said the findings were worrying. "The indexes reflect the fact that Hong Kong's press freedom is at a low level," she said, adding the group would compile the index annually.

The index was based on 10 questions about such issues as legal protection for journalists' work, threats and obstacles to their duties, self-censorship and interference by media owners.

Not all questions relied on a low mark to measure the severity of the threat to press freedom. The study used a detailed formula to arrive at the ratings, not a straightforward collation.

Sham also called on the government to enact legislation protecting people's right of access to information after journalists rated officials' attitude to addressing media inquiries at 3.1 out of 10, with 0 meaning "absolutely avoid the questions".