Attacks on high profile Hong Kong media figures have had a “chilling effect” on both local and foreign media, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club has warned.
Francis Moriarty, head of the FCC’s press freedom committee, urged overseas governments to watch, monitor and comment on the situation, though he conceded there was little they could do to protect journalists in Hong Kong.
His comments followed an assault on two senior executives of Hong Kong Morning News Media Group by masked men in broad daylight in Tsim Sha Tsui on March 19 and a chopping attack on the former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to in San Wan Ho on February 26. The executives were discharged from hospital the evening of the attack, but Lau suffered far more severe injuries and is facing years of rehabilitation.
“The attacks of course have a chilling effect. That’s why 13,000 journalists and supporters marched for press freedom,” said Moriarty, referring to public demonstrations that followed the attacks.
“I don’t think there’s anything any overseas government can do to protect us, but it’s important they watch and monitor and comment. The Hong Kong public cares a great deal about how Hong Kong is perceived overseas because it affects views of potential investors.”
When contacted on Friday a spokesman for the US Consulate General for Hong Kong and Macau reiterated a statement from the State Department saying the US had been “troubled” by a series of incidents over the past year targeting Hong Kong media figures.
The State Department’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki last month urged Hong Kong authorities to “fully and transparently investigate these incidents”.
Moriarty said that in Hong Kong and on the mainland local journalists were at greater risk of violence than foreign journalists, although people who are ethnically Chinese with citizenship in other countries were also at a higher risk.
His warning was echoed by an American journalist of Chinese ethnicity working for a foreign media organisation in Hong Kong.
“In general, if attacks are happening where you’re working, that makes it difficult for anybody—whether you’re a foreign or local journalist. Hong Kong is a small city so it’s in your backyard,” said the journalist, who requested anonymity.
“When fewer media outlets are willing to play an aggressive watchdog role in society, everyone should be scared.”
Yet even non Chinese have been affected.
Before moving from Beijing to Hong Kong last year, American journalist Mike Forsythe received death threats after working as a lead reporter on a Bloomberg report on the family wealth of Chinese president Xi Jinping.
“The threat mentioned that he had a wife and two children … and made me fear for my children,” said Forsythe’s wife, sociologist and former journalist Leta Hong Fincher.
“I’m alarmed by the recent attacks on Hong Kong journalists, but I’m also deeply moved by the thousands of Hong Kong residents who have rallied to protect press freedoms here,” she said.
“In the face of heavy intimidation, it is even more critical for journalists to continue to resist self-censorship and speak truth to power.”
An annual World Press Freedom Index released by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders showed Hong Kong slipping three places to 61st this year. In 2002, when the index was first released, Hong Kong was ranked 18th, the top in Asia.