Hong Kong's deteriorating press freedom can still be safeguarded as long as journalists stand up against any corrosive forces, panellists at a Foreign Correspondents' Club forum said yesterday.
"For me, press freedom has never been worse," veteran journalist and former mainland detainee Ching Cheong said.
He cited the violent attacks on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to and iSun Affairs publisher Chen Ping as examples.
On February 26, 49-year-old Lau was ambushed in Sai Wan Ho by a man who jumped off the back of a motorcycle and attacked him with a meat cleaver, leaving him critically wounded.
Shanghai-born billionaire Chen was attacked by two baton-wielding men near the iSun magazine's offices in Chai Wan in June last year.
Ching said physical assaults were only one kind of threat to press freedom; censorship had also to be guarded against.
He said there had been many signs that some forces were trying to silence the press, citing the sacking of Commercial Radio host Li Wei-ling, and Malaysian editor Chong Tien Siong's appointment as principal executive editor of Ming Pao.
"If you consider the entire atmosphere in the industry, the source of that is clear. The source of that, to me, comes directly from across the border," Ching said.
Hong Kong Journalists Association vice-chairwoman Shirley Yam said some journalists had told her that their editors "blacklisted" liberal-minded commentators. But she was optimistic about the future of press freedom in the city because more journalists were willing to talk about self-censorship in their organisations.
In response to a question, she said it was unfair to assume that mainland journalists in local newsrooms had been instructed by mainland authorities to muzzle local media. Yam said many mainland journalists in the city were principled professionals.
Chan King-cheung, president of the Hong Kong Economic Journal's digital version, advised journalists to simply say "no" if they ever received a call instructing them to drop a critical story.
"My advice to our colleagues is that when you pick up a call from Beijing, just say bye bye and say you are busy. Put down the phone and write your story," he said.