Press freedoms in Hong Kong are “in tatters” as China reshapes the once outspoken business hub into its own authoritarian image, the city’s leading journalists’ union said Thursday, adding it feared laws. on the “fake news” is not on its way.
“The past year is definitely the worst year for press freedom yet,” said Ronson Chan, president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), as the union released its annual report.
The report referred to a cascade of events impacting the press since China imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last summer to stamp out dissent after huge and often violent protests for the democracy the year before.
The authors pointed to the imprisonment of pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai and the freezing of the assets of his Apple Daily newspaper – a move that led to the shutdown of the critical Beijing tabloid.
More than 700 journalists have their jobs while Lai and several Apple Daily executives are currently behind bars, accused of attempting to undermine China’s national security with the contents of the newspaper’s reports.
The HKJA report also accused authorities of turning the city’s public broadcaster RTHK into “a government propaganda apparatus” by laying off critical staff and canceling news broadcasts.
Access to public databases was also becoming more difficult, the report warned, noting how an RTHK journalist was convicted of using vehicle license plates as part of an investigation into a violent attack on pro-democracy supporters by government loyalists.
The government has also sought to restrict journalists’ access to the identities of business owners on the city’s registry, a move criticized by financial transparency groups.
“The repression by the authorities is being felt in different forms of media,” the report warned. “Freedoms have seriously deteriorated under a repressive government.
Chan said he was concerned that new legislation was underway to restrict the media.
Senior officials and pro-Beijing lawmakers in Hong Kong have called for fake news laws, which activists fear could be used against cover authorities.
“There are already a lot of knives hanging over the heads of reporters, like laws against sedition and incitement, so we don’t need another named fake news law,” he said. Chan said.
Hong Kong has plunged in Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom ranking, from 18th place in 2002 to 80th this year.
Mainland China languishes at 177th out of 180, ahead of Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
Several international media companies have regional headquarters in Hong Kong, drawn by the pro-business regulations and free speech provisions enshrined in the city’s mini-constitution.
But many local and international outlets are wondering if they have a future there.
© 2021 AFP