More than half of the city's journalists believe that press freedom will decline with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying at the helm, says the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
The association's latest survey shows that 59.6 per cent of respondents thought press freedom would be 'much restricted' or 'a bit restricted' on Leung's watch. A total of 663 reporters, editors, photographers and media managers were polled from April 18 to May 4.
'The tolerance of the new leader towards the media is quite low ... with this attitude, the media are worried that Leung may impose stringent measures on [them],' said Mak Yin-ting, the association's chairwoman.
Furthermore, self-censorship would be the most serious problem facing the industry, said 22.8 per cent of respondents.
'Consecutive surveys [by the association] have found that self-censorship is on the rise,' Mak said. 'It's a trend that self-censorship is getting more serious.'
To be sure, Leung was unable to reassure reporters on many issues, such as legislation for the national security law required under Article 23 of the Basic Law, said To Yiu-ming, assistant professor at Baptist University's journalism department.
'Leung's close relationship with Beijing has made reporters more worried about self-censorship,' To said.
In addition, government departments often held off-the-record media briefings, which Mak said allowed officials to avoid public scrutiny. For instance, there were 2,476 press reports that quoted 'sources' or government officials in Chinese-language newspapers from March to May, according to the association's annual report. That was down from 2,716 last year and 2,784 in 2010, but the number remained too high, Mak said.
Such numbers for English-language newspapers are 440 from March to May, 434 last year and 452 in 2010. Mak said the figures showed that the government preferred to use off-the-record briefings to test public acceptance of new policies.
She cited a recent example of former chief secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung, who announced a population-related policy at a casual Rotary Club luncheon.
Lam had given a briefing on the report at an on-the-record 'stand-up', 'but only a summary was given to reporters', Mak said.
She added that the government was avoiding questions and criticisms from the press and had manipulated the photo images that the media could use.
For its part, the press association has made several suggestions to Leung to help journalists do their jobs. They include ensuring that all law-enforcement agencies release full details of crimes as they happen and enacting freedom-of-information legislation.
Hong Kong's world ranking in press freedom for 2011-2012, down from 34th place in 2010, according to Reporters Without Borders