Hong Kong’s press freedom left in tatters: HKJA

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) says the past year was the worst ever for press freedom in the territory, with Apple Daily forced to close and the industry facing “increasing threats” from the authorities.

Releasing its annual report titled “Freedom in Tatters,” the association said press freedom has been eroded on many fronts.

“We can say it’s a very critical and difficult environment and situation for press freedom in Hong Kong now,” said HKJA chairman Ronson Chan.

The association said among the most damaging events for the media industry was the abrupt closure of Apple Daily last month, after authorities used the national security law to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editors and executives.

“We can see very clearly from the example of Next Digital and Apple Daily the damaging effects of the national security law on freedoms, and press freedom. We can’t see that what happened at Next Digital or Apple Daily has ever happened elsewhere. I can’t think of any examples myself,” the editor-in-chief of the report, veteran journalist Chris Yeung said.

Other developments over the past year cited in the report include the pulling of shows and sacking of long-time presenters at RTHK, the government’s plan to bring in legislation targeting “fake news”, and the conviction of journalist Bao Choy over the use of a public registry to assist her investigation into the Yuen Long mob attack for an RTHK documentary.

Yeung said the problem of self-censorship within media organisations has become more and more serious since the national security law was enacted, and journalists have faced increasing difficulties in finding people willing to talk to them.

He added that the enactment of the security law and the recent closure of Apple Daily have had repercussions far beyond the media industry.

“Columnists stop writing, publishers and printers not taking orders of controversial books, and even the arts and culture industry are worrying. The book fair is the latest example of the worsening problem of self-censorship,” he said, following reports that the number of political books on sale at the event has plummeted this year.

Yeung, who is a former chairman of the association, said freedom of expression is vital to the city, and he urged the central and Hong Kong governments to carry out an “objective and fact-based” review of what has happened since the security law was imposed just over a year ago.

Chan, meanwhile, said media workers want to know where the “political red lines” are, but authorities have never sought to allay their concerns by making it clear what can and what cannot be reported.

He said it’s possible that a journalist will only find out their work has breached a red line when police come to their door one morning to arrest them.

Chan also urged authorities not to bring in new legislation targeting “fake news”, saying there are already laws in place to tackle speech crimes and journalists are already working within a “very narrow environment”.

While he said the industry could be facing an even bleaker future, Chan urged fellow journalists to keep reporting the truth.

“We can see that many commentators, reporters, journalists and programme hosts left Hong Kong recently. We respect their choice. But just to encourage my colleagues and the journalists still staying in Hong Kong, we have to stand firm and safeguard freedom of press, since Hong Kong people need truth and the news.”