Beijing’s invisible hand reaches ever deeper into Hong Kong media

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is publishing a report about media freedom in Hong Kong, where self-censorship and editorial interference have been growing steadily in recent years and where another newspaper editor was summarily dismissed two weeks ago.

Reiterating its support for the Hong Kong media, RSF calls on the Special Administrative Region’s authorities to reverse their insidious policies towards the media as a matter of urgency.

The latest blatant violation of media freedom occurred eight days ago, as RSF was publishing the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, in which Hong Kong is ranked 69th out of 180 countries, its worst position since the Index’s creation in 2002.

Mingpao, a leading daily known for its political and financial investigative reporting, suddenly fired executive chief editor Keung Kwok-yuen on 20 April, hours after he ran a front-page story focusing on well-known local politicians and businessmen who had been named in the “Panama Papers” investigation.

A “difficult business environment” was the only explanation offered by the newspaper’s management. The staff confronted chief editor Chong Tien Siong and, in protest, published blank columns in the 24 and 25 April issues (including the Canadian edition) but failed to get Keung reinstated.

Entitled “The invisible hand on Hong Kong’s media”, RSF’s report examines the long list of violations of freedom information and editorial independence to which Hong Kong’s journalists have been subjected during the past two years.

Politically motivated dismissals, stories censored or buried deep inside the paper, journalists demoted or sidelined, media groups taken over by pro-Beijing industrialists, withdrawal of advertising and political pressure from local officials – nothing has been spared Hong Kong’s journalists, who have nonetheless kept the public informed about the erosion of their freedoms – freedoms that are essential in a democracy.

This report aims to draw attention to the fact that, hidden out of sight behind what is generally known as ‘self censorship,’ there are often men and woman taking the decision to censor,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

At this turning point in Hong Kong’s history, those rightly suspected of being behind the erosion of media freedom must be held accountable. Led by Beijing, the enemies of media freedom must be confronted, especially as they deny that they have a media control strategy. This is what our report tries to do.

Denouncing Beijing’s increasing control over the Special Administrative Region, the report calls on the Hong Kong government, especially Chief Executive CY Leung, to stop violating the right to receive and impart information, and to respond to the legitimate aspirations of organizations that defend freedom of the press and information.

The Hong Kong media’s independence vis-à-vis Beijing is the main challenge for freedom of information. The media have to fight more and more to defend their editorial policies from the central government’s influence. The acquisition of media outlets by Chinese companies such as Internet giant Alibaba or by businessmen allied with the Chinese government is extremely worrying.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association published a report last month about the growing threat posed by self-censorship. Regular polling of journalists and the public indicates that the decline in media freedom in Hong Kong is being fuelled by the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators and instigators of crimes of violence against the media and journalists.

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Updated on 02.05.2016