NEWS – New PEN Reports Raises the Alarm for Press Freedom

Hong Kong Media WatchA report on the declining state of press freedom in Hong Kong was published by the PEN American Centre yesterday. PEN are the latest international group to highlight the erosion of free speech and the rise of self-censorship in the city. Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have also raised the alarm in the past year, along with the local Independent Commentators Association and Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), who described 2014 as the “darkest for press freedom for several decades“.

The PEN report detailed trends whereby the range of news and views available to Hong Kongers had narrowed. It also noted that media organisations were increasingly self-censoring stories that might conflict with their owners’ business interests in the mainland.

A five-page list of attacks on journalists during the Occupy protests and a table detailing instances of censorship were included. Both were compiled by the Hong Kong Journalists Association. 

Under the leadership of CY Leung, the city’s press freedom ranking has continued to dive in global indices. Hong Kong slipped three places to No. 61 in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking. It is rated as “party free” by Freedom House with a press freedom score of 37 out of 100. It 2008, Hong Kong was classified as “free”.

PEN made the following recommendations:
To the Government of Hong Kong:
  • Promptly and thoroughly investigate all reported attacks against journalists and media personnel, and hold accountable those found responsible. Provide regular public updates about the status of investigations.
  • Ensure that Hong Kong police are fully trained on the rights of the media during public demonstrations, and that members of the media may do their job documenting public demonstrations without undue interference.
  • Protect freedom of speech online, in accordance with the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution on human rights on the internet, which affirms that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression.”
    Provide public information, including regular updates, on cases brought under Section 161 of the Crimes Ordinance, including numbers of arrests, formal charges brought, and the final disposition of each case.
  • Establish publicly accessible, standard procedures for government requests for internet users’ data, including due process protections and transparency requirements.
  • Establish a transparent and independent process for media broadcasting licensing.

To the international community:

  • Actively monitor the government of Hong Kong’s continued compliance with its obligations under the ICCPR, particularly those relating to press freedom, and take appropriate measures to publicly report on the government’s record of compliance.
  • Request that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression engage the Chinese government on the issue of freedom of expression in Hong Kong, and include Hong Kong in reports to the UN political bodies.
  • Publicly and privately support press freedom in Hong Kong as vital to democracy, important to the free flow of information within and outside of Hong Kong, and as a bulwark in relation to the situation of press freedom in mainland China.
  • Raise concerns regarding infringements on press freedom and internet freedom in Hong Kong in bilateral and multilateral discussions with both the Hong Kong and Beijing governments.
  • Exert pressure on mainland Chinese authorities to cease all efforts to interfere with press freedom in Hong Kong, including the use of political pressure on commercial entities to persuade them to withdraw advertisements from Hong Kong publications that are critical of government authorities.
    International organizations, institutions, and businesses should avoid commercial decisions, including with respect to business operations, advertising, and partnerships, that compromise values of independence and respect for human rights or otherwise reinforce or enable rights infringements.

To local and overseas press organizations, and human rights organizations:

  • Closely monitor and document developments in Hong Kong that affect press freedom, including physical assaults on journalists, censorship, the withdrawal of advertising from media outlets for apparently political reasons, and encroachments on freedom of expression online.
  • Ensure that Hong Kong is specifically included, and its unique challenges addressed, in global reports that monitor conditions for freedom of expression and press freedom around the world.

News of the report was published in the New York Times and via AFP in the Daily Mail, Jakarta Post and others. Twenty-four hours after the report was launched, the local South China Morning Post (whose credibility was questioned within the report) have yet to acknowledge its publication.