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REGION: Beijing’s ‘invisible hand’ felt as Hong Kong press freedom declines


Protesters display placards during a rally to support press freedom in Hong Kong. Image: Radio Free Asia

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Item: 9702

Dominic Pink
AUCKLAND (Asia Pacific Report/ Pacific Media Centre): The vibrant city of Hong Kong, once regarded as a haven for free speech, is experiencing a steady erosion of press freedom.

The former British colony was promised a high degree of economic and social autonomy upon its handover to China in 1997 — including freedom of the press — with the Hong Kong special administrative region operating under a “one country, two systems” principle. However, despite initially enjoying one of the most free media climates in the region, the situation appears to have deteriorated in recent years.

In the annual world press freedom index compiled by the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders — or Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) — Hong Kong has slumped in the rankings from 18th in 2002 to 69th in 2016 (China sits at number 176 of 180 countries).

Further cause for concern can be found in the latest survey by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), which reports that both journalists and the general public believe that press freedom in Hong Kong has worsened for second year in a row.

Self-censorship has been stressed as one of the major issues facing the media; when the HKJA asked journalists to evaluate the level of self-censorship on a scale of 1 to 10, their average rating was 7.

Benjamin Ismaïl, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, found Hong Kong’s media freedom situation troubling enough to warrant an in-depth report. Aiming to draw attention to self-censorship and editorial interference issues, the report calls on the special administrative region’s authorities to “reverse their insidious policies towards the media as a matter of urgency”.

Despite noting that there is no incontrovertible evidence of Beijing’s hand in undermining Hong Kong’s press freedom, the report raises questions about several distressing developments.

Dominic Pink compiled this report as part of the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Journalism Studies course. Read his full report on Asia Pacific Report.

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Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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