Hong Kong’s Press Freedom Index hits new low With most hesitation in criticising the Central Government

The general public and journalists both say press freedom has declined in Hong Kong over 2022, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s (HKJA)  latest Press Freedom Index (the Index).

Hong Kong’s press freedom hit a new low in 2022 since the Index was founded in 2013, according to ratings given by journalists and the general public, although the decline slowed down compared to the steep downturn from a year earlier. The rating given by journalists has dropped for four consecutive years, from 40.9 points in 2018 to 25.7 in 2022.

Of the two-part survey’s respondents, 91% of journalists and 46% of the general public believe that press freedom has become worse than a year earlier. However there was a marked increase in the number of respondents who said they believe the situation remained unchanged compared to 2021, leading to a deceleration in the Index’s downward trend.

Hong Kong’s journalism environment has seen dramatic deterioration since 2019. Top executives and editors at newspaper Apple Daily and online media Stand News were charged under the Hong Kong National Security Law or with sedition. The two media organisations ceased operations in 2021.

The HKJA believes that the media industry experienced a bitter winter over 2022. Veteran journalist and former Stand News opinion writer Allan Au Ka-lun was arrested in April on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious materials. Investigative news outlet Factwire ended operations in June, followed by the HKJA’s own chairperson Ronson Chan’s arrest in September, who was charged with obstructing police. By October, the Hong Kong police sent letters to newspaper Ming Pao to condemn Zun Zi, the paper’s political cartoonist for 40 years. Zun Zi became a target of criticism by government officials on six public occasions. Ming Pao put an end to the satirical comic column in May this year.

The HKJA believes that these continuous attacks on journalists by the government,  which controls massive resources and wields public power, shows that Hong Kong no longer has space for critical voices. 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. Obstructed flow of information and damages to press freedom will in turn be unfavourable to the city’s business environment. Hong Kong may retain its place as an international financial centre in Asia only if its freedom of the press is protected.

Journalists and members of the general public who responded to the survey both indicated that among the ten factors rated for press freedom, hesitation in criticising the central government was the top reason contributing to the Index’s decline, and rated it the lowest. Lower rating indicates the phenomenon was more commonplace. Journalist respondents believe that they were most hesitant about criticising the Central Government, compared with the HKSAR government or business tycoons. Their rating dropped 0.7 points to just 1.5 out of 10.

Members of the general public polled believe the second most common factor contributing to the decline was pressure exerted by media supervisors or by their management on journalists, while journalists believe the second most common factor (ranked 9th out of 10) was self-censorship.

Further, journalists’ ratings indicate that they believe the attitude of Hong Kong Government officials, including the Chief Executive, has improved when they replied to media inquiries. The rating improved from 2.4 to 3.4 points.

Press Freedom Index

Changes in the Hong Kong Press Freedom Index in the past ten years (2013-2022):

Among respondents in the general public, 49% believe arresting and charging several senior members of news media with violating the National Security Law or with sedition was either quite or very damaging to press freedom. Among journalist respondents, 97% believe charging Stand News editors with sedition was damaging to press freedom, of which 90% believe it to be very damaging. Further, 96% of journalists believe charging media tycoon Jimmy Lai under the National Security Law was either quite or very damaging to press freedom.

Other incidents considered quite or very damaging to press freedom by the majority of journalists were when the government repeatedly condemned new media for publishing “misleading” content as well as the government’s advocacy to legislate against fake news.

It is also worth noting that the HKJA sent out 678 questionnaires to journalists and received 249 responses, a 36.7% valid response rate, 22.9% last year, indicating improvements among their willingness to fill in the questionnaire.

The Index survey was conducted between March and April this year and intends to evaluate the state of press freedom in 2022. The survey is composed of two parts, with responses collected from members of the public and from journalists in the news industry. The index is scored on a scale of 0 to 100 based on a range of rating indicators, which are scored on a scale of 0 to 10.

The general public portion of the Press Freedom Index survey was conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute between March 6 and 20 this year, with 1,026 Hong Kong residents above 18 years of age and who can speak Cantonese. The journalist portion of the survey was conducted by the HKJA between March 9 and April 13 this year, which successfully polled 249 journalists.

The 2022 Press Freedom Index was made possible thanks to everyone who selflessly contributed to the effort. The HKJA would like to express its gratitude towards everyone who participated in the Index during this testing time.

For detailed data mentioned in the press release, please visit: http://tiny.cc/e2n8vz

For the detailed report, please visit: http://tiny.cc/HKPFI2022

Hong Kong Journalists Association
7 July 2023

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