World newspaper association chief ‘concerned about press freedom in Hong Kong’

World newspaper association chief concerned about Hong Kong's declining media freedom, urges government to actively address the issue

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 12:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 3:39am

The head of the association representing the world's newspapers told an international conference in Hong Kong yesterday that he was concerned about the decline of press freedom in the city and said the government must act to ensure a "free and independent society".

Tomas Brunegård described freedom of expression as a basic human right and called on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to "take firm actions to safeguard press freedom".

His comments came a day after the release of a study indicating many Hong Kong reporters believed self-censorship and interfering owners were common among the city's media.

"The sole purpose of doing conferences like this... is to secure and advocate for independent press globally. … We are concerned about press freedom in Hong Kong," Brunegård, president of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra), said.

Brunegård said the stabbing of former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to was only the most high-profile of attacks on journalists in Hong Kong, afterwards telling the South China Morning Post: "We are concerned about the way the authorities handled the situation. We urge the government to make sure that justice is done, and that means getting to the root causes of the attacks on journalists including Lau."

Following Brunegård's speech, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took to the stage, praising press freedom as the city's top "strength".

He said maintaining an unfettered press was the government's top priority "because it is a cornerstone of a free society".

In response to mention of the Lau attack, Leung spoke of the mainland authorities' assistance in "quickly apprehending [Lau's] assailants and turning them over to Hong Kong police". Two men have appeared in court charged with assaulting Lau.

After his speech, though, he rejected a Post reporter's request for him to explain what concrete action would be taken to safeguard press freedom.

Brunegård later said: "The first step is to acknowledge that press freedom is important, and that's what the chief executive said. But what's more important is how the government acts to maintain media freedom."

Brunegård made his comments at Wan-Ifra's annual Publish Asia conference, which has drawn delegations of journalists from across the globe.

A new press freedom index released by the Hong Kong Journalists Association on Wednesday found that reporters believed self-censorship was common and that owners or management regularly exerted editorial pressure, while the public had a negative impression of the city's level of press freedom.

In February, Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 61st for press freedom worldwide - far below its 18th place in 2002.