Concerns Mount Over Press Freedom in Hong Kong

Concerns over the erosion of in Hong Kong have grown in recent years, bolstered by a brutal attack on an editor of Ming Pao newspaper and the firing of another, threats against Sing Pao Daily News, and the sale of the South China Morning Post to Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. According to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, perceptions of press freedom in the territory have risen very slightly over the past year, while 72% of media workers feel press freedom conditions have worsened in that time. From Jeffie Lam at the South China Morning Post:

The annual Press Freedom Index for journalists rose 1.2 points to 39.4 out of 100, while the index for the general public increased slightly by 0.6 points to 48. The index measures a group’s perception of media freedom in their society.

The positive development however came despite 72 per cent of media workers surveyed in the poll saying that they felt overall press freedom in Hong Kong had worsened in the past year.

“I believe one of the factors behind the mild increase is the rise of online media last year, which has diversified news coverage and the angles of reportage,” association chairwoman Sham Yee-lan said on Thursday. [Source]

Financial difficulties are now threatening some of the new online media, which had helped to diversify Hong Kong’s media environment. Initium, a Chinese-language website that focuses on longform writing, is facing major cutbacks due to a lack of funding. i-Cable, a 24-hour Cantonese-language news network which has an investigative team in China, has also been threatened with closure after losing its funding.

As a result of concerns over the status of the media and, more generally, encroaching Chinese political control, in Hong Kong, the French press freedom organization Reporters without Borders has announced that it will open its first Asia bureau in Taipei instead of Hong Kong as planned. Chris Horton at The New York Times reports:

Mr. Deloire said that the Paris-based organization, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières, decided against Hong Kong because of “a lack of legal certainty for our entity and activities.” He also cited the possibility that staff members would be put under surveillance.

The announcement is a reversal of fortune for both Hong Kong and Taiwan. When Reporters Without Borders was founded in 1985, Hong Kong was a British colony with a high degree of press freedom, while Taiwan was at the tail end of four decades of martial law.

“I don’t blame Reporters Without Borders for jilting Hong Kong,” said Claudia Mo, a Hong Kong legislator who was a journalist before entering government. Ms. Mo said that before returning to Chinese control in 1997, Hong Kong had led Asia in press freedom, but that under Chinese sovereignty, “it’s been going downhill.” [Source]