Darkest year 'in decades' for Hong Kong press: Journalists Association

Violence, financial pressure and anonymous government sources thwart reporters; but journalists have plan to combat self-censorship

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 4:41pm

Press freedom has reached its lowest level in decades, according to the Journalists Association.

Violence, financial pressure and an increasing reliance by the government on anonymous sources have all taken their toll, according to the association's annual report. And it expects things to get worse.

"We reckon that Hong Kong's press freedom had its darkest year in several decades," association chairwoman Sham Yee-lan said yesterday. "As political pressure between Hong Kong and Beijing increases, we expect further deterioration in press freedom."

A meat cleaver attack on the former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to, the sacking of Commercial Radio talk-show host Li Wei-ling, and advertising boycotts against newspapers such as Apple Daily and am730 were all cited by Sham as troubling incidents over the past year.

Police had also obstructed journalists from covering arrests at the July 2 sit-in in Central, and told them to leave.

"When journalists agreed to go into the press area, layers of police officers formed a human wall in front of them and they couldn't get a clear view of what was happening. We found that unnecessary," said association vice-chairwoman Shirley Yam.

The association has written to Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung and its representatives will meet the police public relations branch today to demand future protests are not handled in the same way.

The report found self-censorship was also a problem. The association announced it was setting up a monitoring committee, made up of eight journalists, academics and lawyers, to investigate self-censorship complaints.

Some news editors had already expressed their support of the committee, said Sham, as it would give them a bargaining chip with managers when faced with censorship.

The report noted an increase in the government's use of anonymous sources to release information - a method that meant officials could not be held accountable for what they said.

The increase was particularly evident in English newspapers - such sources featured in an average 3.8 articles a day in 2010; this had increased to five a day between March and May this year.

Mak Yin-ting, of the association's press freedom subcommittee, criticised officials such as Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah for using blogs to release information. Details of public policies should be explained at press conferences, where questions could be asked, said Mak, who said there had been no improvement despite complaints to the Information Services Department three years ago.

The government replied that it respected and treasured press freedom, and that officials held press conferences frequently.