Hong Kong victim of China’s ‘censorship virus’, media watchdog says

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Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Hong Kong in 80th place in a global press freedom index, down by seven places from last year after the imposition of a national security law in the territory.

At the release of the 2021 Press Freedom Index, RSF said the past year had seen examples of authoritarian regimes using the COVID-19 pandemic to “perfect their methods of totalitarian control of information.”

“The censorship virus — at which China is the world’s undisputed specialist — gradually took hold in much of the region,” RSF said on Tuesday.

“This began in the semi-autonomous ‘special administrative region’ of Hong Kong (80th), where Beijing can now interfere directly under the national security law it imposed in June 2020, and which poses a grave threat to journalism,” the group said.

The chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), Chris Yeung, said press freedom has deteriorated in the city since Beijing imposed the national security law there from July 1, 2020. Hong Kong was ranked 73rd on the list in 2019.

“Freedom of the press in Hong Kong has worsened a lot during the past year,” Yeung told RFA. “The reason is that all aspects [of press freedom and journalistic activity]are now under threat from different factors, including some provisions of the national security law itself.”

“The way in which the national security law criminalizes and targets certain actions has had a chilling effect that has affected every kind of freedom in Hong Kong,” Yeung said, adding that he saw no likelihood of anything improving during the next few years.

Yeung said the government is only just getting started with its crackdown on the city’s media.

Bruce Lui, senior journalism lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), said journalists are under increasing political pressure to conform to CCP narratives under the national security law.

“The pressure on everyone working in the media has intensified, and the number of red lines has multiplied,” Lui said. “People are watching the situation, and being careful how they report things, especially on issues considered sensitive by the government.”

He said Hong Kong’s ranking wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to the city’s seven million residents.

“Hong Kong people already know this, and I think the media is only a part of the whole story,” Lui said.

China meanwhile is ranked a lowly 177 by the RSF, above only Eritrea and North Korea. (Source: RFA)

 

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