More than half the respondents to a Hong Kong University poll - a record since the handover - believe that the city's news media practise selfcensorship.
At the same time, the general credibility rating of news media has dropped from a record high six months ago to a level last registered in 2006, which paralleled a 10 per cent drop in people's satisfaction with their local news sources.
Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Programme, said people might be losing faith in the media because of their hesitation to criticise the central government.
Hong Kong Journalists' Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting said the result reflected a continuing problem that threatened press freedom.
The poll, in which 1,003 people were interviewed in a random telephone survey this month, found that 54 per cent believed that the media self-censored, while only 30 per cent thought that they reported news responsibly.
Mak said self-censorship was not a recent issue, but a continuing problem that threatened press credibility and freedom. 'It's not about whether the media does [self-censor] or not any more, but whether we've internalised it to the point where we do it unconsciously,' she said.
Her association did a survey of reporters and media workers in 2007 in which 60 per cent of respondents thought self-censorship was practised. 'Self-censorship is not an obvious thing for those not in the trade,' Mak said, adding that public awareness of the problem highlighted its seriousness and showed it was time to do something about it.
Recent media disclosure of the MTR's attempt to influence news reports on the railway system by threatening to withdraw advertising might garner more approval from the public, but measures must be taken against self-censorship if press freedom was to be upheld, she said, adding that the poll results should sound a warning for Hong Kong's media to start revising how they reported.
Television was the main source of news for 82 per cent of respondents, while 66 per cent got their news from newspapers. In terms of satisfaction, 70 per cent of those polled were satisfied with television news, while that figure was 61 per cent for radio, 37 per cent for both newspapers and the web and 9 per cent for magazines.
A reluctance to criticise Beijing may be hurting media credibility
Of the 1,003 people surveyed, the proportion who believe the media reports news responsibly is only: 30%