Beijing accuses Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club of ‘sowing discord’ over state of press freedom
- The accusations followed an FCC survey in which most respondents said the media environment had ‘changed for the worse’ since the imposition of the national security law
- The results prompted Beijing to accuse the club of ‘walking away from its professional ethics’ and ‘smearing’ Hong Kong’s press freedom
“We urge the FCC to stop sowing discord and refrain from interfering with the law-based governance of [the Hong Kong administration] and [the city’s] rule of law in the name of press freedom,” the office of the foreign ministry’s commissioner said in a strongly worded statement.
“The FCC has walked away from its professional ethics. Its misleading report, based on just a few responses, is neither representative nor credible. Its smearing of Hong Kong’s press freedom and playing-up of the chilling effect are interference in Hong Kong affairs.”
FCC president Keith Richburg said the club would not be responding to the ministry’s statement, which it had reposted on its website.
The FCC survey found that more than four-fifths of respondents had noted the challenges of finding willing sources to be quoted for news stories since the security law was enacted, with even relatively neutral topics deemed too political by interviewees.
One FCC member was quoted in the survey as saying that previously sources had been more open to speak on any topic within reason, while publications had no real concerns about what they could publish, or on protecting people who did speak to them.
“Now, many people are reluctant or refuse to talk on sensitive subjects, and our organisation, especially after the raids on Apple Daily , is much more cautious about data security and the ability to protect sources,” the member said.
The tabloid-style Apple Daily newspaper saw its publisher and several executives and newsroom figures arrested on security law charges, and was ultimately forced to fold earlier this year.
Fifty-six per cent of survey respondents said that they practised some self-censorship or avoided reporting on what might be considered sensitive stories.
Another member added that he believed some topics, such as independence in Hong Kong, would need to be carefully considered before being covered in detail.
“These results clearly show that assurances that Hong Kong still enjoys press freedom, guaranteed under the Basic Law, are not enough,” Richburg had said of the survey before Beijing’s rebuke.
“More steps need to be taken to restore confidence among journalists and to make sure Hong Kong maintains its decades-long reputation as a welcoming place for the international media.”
The foreign ministry office, however, said the survey’s findings had “attacked the national security law”, and countered that the legislation had protected the country, restored social stability and given people a greater sense of safety.
“Thanks to the law, Hong Kong could refocus on fighting Covid-19, revitalising economy and improving people’s livelihood,” it said.
The FCC had also urged the government to reconsider its planned fake news law following the survey, which revealed almost universal concern over the legislation.
The government, it said, should “heed the concerns of our members and take action to restore confidence among working journalists in the city”.
Other government officials, including Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung, have also expressed their support for the legislation.
At the start of the coronavirus outbreak last year, Hong Kong was gripped by rumours of impending shortages of essentials, which sparked panic buying – a situation also seen in other countries.
Hong Kong press freedom is at centre of ‘one country, two systems’
Richburg said the FCC would continue to conduct similar surveys on a regular basis to gauge sentiment among members.