How Hong Kong press freedom suffocates under China

Emboldened by the National Security Law, Hong Kong officials are increasingly cracking down on media and journalists critical of the government. Many on the ground now fear that self-censorship will eventually extinguish the independence and integrity of the press in the former British colony.

Hundreds of police have scattered around a building in eastern Hong Kong on a hot Thursday in June this year, nearly a year after the controversial security law was implemented. national.

Inside the premises, officers sifted through computers and journalists’ notebooks at Apple Daily, the city’s now closed pro-democracy newspaper. Apple Daily video producers did their best to film the office raid and the arrests of five executives under the National Security Act, including editor Ryan Law.

It was arguably the biggest blow to press freedom in Hong Kong in the city’s history, and since then the situation has not improved.

Ellen, a pseudonym used to protect her identity, was a reporter who saw pro-democracy protesters offer their support on the day of the publication of the latest edition of Apple Daily.

“Hong Kong’s press freedom is dwindling right before your eyes,” she told FairPlanet.

Authorities are now reviewing regulations and even laws they can use against the media. Chief Secretary John Lee said in November that “destructive false information must be stopped”.

The former security secretary threatened to criminalize such “fake news”, but if “the industry exercises self-discipline and introduces regulations as well as a management or sanction mechanism”, the government might not move a bill forward.

Self-censorship will eventually force the media in the former British colony to become government spokespersons, Ellen said.

“Is it ridiculous to say that all the media here will turn into government spokespersons like CCTV?” I think they are still gradually ceasing to criticize the authorities and government figures, ”added the journalist.

The authorities’ decision came after the city’s largest pro-democracy protests began in 2019 triggered deep tensions between police and protesters. Police have long been dissatisfied with media reports of his brutality and blame the wider Hong Kong fury against them on journalists.

Reports of police targeting active journalists at protest sites filled the city media at the time, accusing the force of pushing journalists, removing their gas masks and even holding one for one. hours.

It was not the first time that officials considered a system of control of the city’s press. In the first police raid on Apple Daily in August last year, the force denied journalists from some media outlets access to their regular press conferences after the arrest, including pro-democracy digital media Stand News and foreign press services.

A month later, police stopped recognizing credentials issued by the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong refused to renew The Economist correspondent Sue-lin Wong’s visa, apparently without any explanation. In August, Aaron Mc Nicholas, the new editor-in-chief of the independent media platform Hong Kong Free Press – who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his reporting on human rights and the protests in Hong Kong – spoke refused a work visa without any official explanation.

In July last year, the city’s immigration department denied a work permit to New York Times correspondent Chris Buckley, who was forced to leave mainland China for the same reason in 2012.

“[The government wants] to eradicate any reporting that criticizes Beijing in any way, ”Ellen said.

Press freedom in Hong Kong has plunged to an all-time high this year, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association. According to the survey, the decline stems from “doubt and reluctance to criticize the Hong Kong government and the central government. [Beijing], [significant declines] insufficient legislative guarantees for journalists’ free access to information, threats to the personal safety of journalists when covering the news, the effectiveness of the watchdog role played by local media and diversity views within the local media.

“Since the government doesn’t really set the red lines for the media, we can go to jail anytime for writing anything,” Ellen added.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 80th in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index out of 180 countries and called the national security law “particularly dangerous” for the city’s journalists.

With Beijing tightening its grip on the city and looming journalism regulations, the Hong Kong reporter sees a bleak future for press freedom.

“I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for reporters here,” she said. “If you have hope, stay in the industry, but if not, change it. It’s not an easy time to be a journalist in Hong Kong.”

Image by Natalia Au.

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