Hong Kong: Two press freedom organisations point out the deteriorating environment for journalists

In two separate reports released this week, the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) and the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong (FCCHK) both indicate the deteriorating environment for journalists and press freedom in the territory. 

Press freedom in Hong Kong has reached a new low, following four consecutive years of decline. So says the vast majority of the 249 journalists surveyed (91%) in the annual index published on 7 July 2023 by the Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) in cooperation Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.

“The continuous attacks on journalists by the government, which controls massive resources and wields public power, show that Hong Kong no longer has space for critical voices,” alerts the HKJA. “The media industry will succumb to the chilling effect as they find themselves in an unequal power dynamic. This directly causes the public to have access to fewer and less diverse information than before.” Media professionals deplore the fact that they are censoring themselves more and more, particularly when it comes to criticism of China’s central government.

This decline in journalists’ working conditions over the past 18 months is also denounced in the survey published by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong (FCCHK) on 5 July 2023. Among the 66 respondents, 73% are “concerned” about the possibility of arrest or prosecution based on their media work. Nine respondents report having been subjected to digital or physical surveillance. Journalists also report an increasing difficulty accessing sources, who are less willing to be quoted or discuss subjects considered sensitive.

“Journalists in mainland China are routinely confronted with harassment, surveillance, and a limited access to sources, and the fact that these concerns have now spread to Hong Kong is truly worrisome. We urge democracies to build up pressure for the government to restore full press freedom in the territory.

Cédric Alviani
RSF East Asia Bureau Director

In June, after the last Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in Hong Kong, a RSF delegation undertook a mission to Hong Kong to assess the safety needs of journalists and introduce the organisation’s capacity-building and assistance programmes. Their meetings with dozens of journalists, foreign correspondents and local media experts from a wide range of organisations likewise corroborate the fact that pressure from the government has intensified, that it is increasingly difficult to access sources, and that there is a worrying increase in self-censorship.

Over the past three years, in line with Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s crusade against journalism, the Hong Kong government has prosecuted at least 28 media workers and press freedom defenders, 13 of whom remain in detention. The government also forcibly shut down independent daily newspapers Apple Daily and Stand News, while six other media outlets had no other choice but to disband due to pressure.

Hong Kong ranks 140th out of 180 in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, having plummeted down from 18th place in the span of two decades. China itself ranks 179th out of 180 countries and territories evaluated.