Press freedom in Hong Kong
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Police set up a cordon outside the offices of the Apple Daily newspaper in June. Photo: Sam Tsang

Hong Kong press group wants Beijing to rethink national security law after year of ‘unprecedented threats’

  • Hong Kong Journalists Association says media has faced year of ‘suppression’ and calls on officials to loosen grip on industry
  • In annual report, group cites Apple Daily crackdown and calls on government to reconsider fake news law
Hong Kong’s biggest journalism body has asked Beijing to amend the national security law and loosen its grip over the media, saying press freedom in the city was at its worst in the past year.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association released its 2021 annual report on Thursday and said local media had faced “unprecedented threats” in the past 12 months amid what it called increasing “suppression” from the authorities.

In its annual report, “Freedom in Tatters”, the association cited police’s crackdown on Apple Daily newspaper, the national security law prosecution of its founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, and the publication’s eventual demise.

Coupled with the planned fake news law, which could put journalists at greater risk and lead to “self-censorship”, it feared this was the start of a comprehensive clampdown on local media in the name of national security.

“After the closure of Apple Daily, there have been cases where some online outlets ceased operation while others sought to remove some previous reports or commentaries. This clearly shows that press freedom has been shrinking,” said Chris Yeung Kin-hing, the association’s immediate past chairman and chief editor of the annual report.

Chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan (left), and Chris Yeung, chief editor of the annual report. Photo: AFP

Yeung said the problem of self-censorship within the media had become more serious after the national security law was enacted, and reporters faced increasing difficulties in finding people willing to talk to them.

He also expressed concerns that the negative impact of the security legislation could deepen in years to come.

“The national security law has been weaponised and there are red lines all over. The truth that the public can know through the media will certainly diminish,” Yeung said.

Hong Kong has also steadily fallen down an annual press freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders, dropping from 18th place in 2002 to 80th this year. Mainland China was ranked 177th out of 180 countries.

Who defines ‘fake news’ in Hong Kong, and is a law needed?

The association urged the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, to heed Hong Kong people’s concerns and have an “objective and fact-based” review of the security legislation.

According to the report, the concept of national security was too vague and could be easily abused. It cited Article 43, which allows police to order the removal of published information or surrendering of any information if needed for an investigation.

It said the law should at least allow the use of public interest as a defence for journalists in order to safeguard press freedom.

Apple Daily was raided by national security police twice and officers could search press materials,” Ronson Chan Ron-sing, the association’s chairman, said. “The raid and the related arrests were allegedly related to national security. But so far, we have not been told what exactly the red line is and where exactly it is drawn.”


Hong Kong press freedom is at centre of ‘one country, two systems’

Hong Kong press freedom is at centre of ‘one country, two systems’

In the annual report, the association also asked the Hong Kong government to shelve plans for a fake news law.

“To beat misinformation, the government should do so by other means including education and publicity, which could help enhance public understanding about misinformation for them to exercise self-monitoring,” the report said.

Instead, the association said the government should enact an archives law and a freedom of information law to enhance public access to information and archives.

It also asked officials to stop putting pressure on the city’s embattled public broadcaster RTHK, which underwent seismic changes after the government named veteran civil servant Patrick Li Pak-chuen, who had no media experience, as its new director in March.

Critical news programmes have been withdrawn, and veteran journalists have either resigned or been fired.

Responding in the evening to the report, a spokesman for the Security Bureau said the national security law upheld the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people.

“Any actions taken by Hong Kong law enforcement agencies are based on evidence, strictly according to the law, for the acts of the persons or entities concerned, and have nothing to do with their political stance, background or occupation.

“It would be contrary to the rule of law to suggest that people or entities of certain sectors or professions could be above the law,” the spokesman added.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Press group asks Beijing to amend law