“The year under review has been both momentous and worrying for Hong Kong.” This is how the 2015 Annual Report published by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) opens. The report documents how journalists have become caught between two different fires, as the title suggests: external pressures from the likes of the Hong Kong government and big business and internal pressure in the form of escalating self-censorship.
It has also been a year in which media workers faced the most serious risks as they faced both protesters and the police during the 79-day Occupy movement and other incidents, including “localist” demonstrations. The HKJA documented more than 30 cases involving injuries to journalists during the Occupy movement. There were also cases of police treating journalists with disdain and at times making false accusations against those who were attempting to report on the confrontation.
HKJA chairperson Sham Yee-lan said: “I have been in the industry for 30 years and have never seen a year with so many reporters being attacked. This is very sad.”
There was a general perception among both the public and journalists that press freedom was deteriorating. The Hong Kong Press Freedom Index, which is published annually by the HKJA, showed a decline to 48.8 in the index for the general public. The drop among journalists was more marked – down 3.1 points to 38.9.
Journalists were particularly worried about self-censorship and the attitude of government officials towards the media. This report examines these trends, noting that pressure is growing on journalists to tailor their stories to the establishment view.
The report highlights other disturbing trends, including controversy over changes made to sensitive stories at Ming Pao Daily News and the departure of senior newsroom staff at the Hong Kong Economic Journal. Both cases happened after the newspapers’ chief editors were moved to other posts. The South China Morning Post has changed its long-standing policy on regular columnists. Under the new arrangement, writers are required to seek prior approval of topics they plan to write about.
There has also been great turbulence in the broadcasting sector. Asia Television (ATV) became the first Hong Kong broadcaster to be denied a licence extension. It is set to go off air in April 2016. At the same time, Hong Kong Television Network won a court battle against a government decision to deny it a free-to-air licence. However, observers are predicting that despite these developments, Television Broadcasts (TVB) is likely to maintain its dominance, which will not be conducive to media diversity.
Given these challenges, the HKJA is calling on the government to take all possible measures to ensure that journalists are able to carry out their legitimate reporting duties, especially during protests. In particular, it calls on officers to be given clear instructions on how to handle journalists with respect. Police officers who assaulted journalists should be prosecuted. Police should also take appropriate action against protestors who attacked journalists, irregardless of their political stance.
The association also called on the government to increase transparency by enacting freedom of information and archive laws to ensure that Hong Kong residents, including journalists, have proper access to government information and documents. It also urged the administration to reverse the non-transparent nature of its communication with the public by holding proper news conferences when it has important announcements to make, instead of using one-way means of communication such as blogs.
The HKJA also called on the government to review its policy on the granting of broadcasting licences in the wake of the decision not to renew ATV’s free-to-air licence. It says there is an urgent need for the government to ensure maximum media diversity in the industry to ensure that a variety of viewpoints is available to the viewing public.
The 2015 Annual Report can be downloaded here. If you want more information on this report, please contact the HKJA on 2591 0692 or email [email protected]
Hong Kong Journalists Association
July 12, 2015