One country, two nightmares: HKJA's annual press freedom report
July 6, NY: The past year under review - from July 2015 to June 2016 - has been extremely difficult for Hong Kong and media freedoms, with the one country, two systems principle facing serious threats as a result of a spillover to Hong Kong of mainland Chinese ideological control.
The title of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA)'s 2016 Annual Report - One Country, Two Nightmares - reflects the troubling times facing Hong Kong. On the one hand, it is symptomatic of ever deeper incursions by Beijing into the territory's autonomy. On the other, there is the self-inflicted fear on mainland China's part – arguably unjustified - that this same autonomy and Hong Kong's systems could infiltrate into the greater part of the country and ultimately threaten its absolute control.
The report investigates the way that mainland China – under President Xi Jinping's leadership – has increased ideological control over the country and its ramifications for the media in Hong Kong. It also examines the blossoming of online news websites partly as a counter to what critics see as a pro-establishment media and the refusal of the government to give accreditation to online journalists.
As we state in the report's introduction, the landmark incident over the past year has been the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who published and distributed books critical of China and the Communist Party of China. This incident brought up questions about the viability of one country, two systems in the context of the Beijing leadership's desire to eliminate opposition voices.
Other issues covered include the failure of the government to act on repeated HKJA calls for the enactment of freedom of information legislation, a landmark court case over a bid by the University of Hong Kong to gag media coverage of its council meetings, continued cases of violence against journalists, in particular during the disturbances in Mongkok in February 2016 and concerns about the licensing system for radio and television broadcasters.
Journalist and public perceptions of press freedom have been hit over the past year. This has been reflected in the Hong Kong Press Freedom Index, which was compiled from survey results obtained from journalists and the general public. The 2015 index dropped 0.7 points to 38.2 for journalists and 1.4 points to 47.4 for the general public – showing a decline for a second consecutive year.
To meet these challenges, the HKJA calls on the government in this report to take a much more robust approach towards the protection of press freedom and other rights integral to Hong Kong's success. It should in particular take a strong approach to protect the one country, two systems principle given that one country is now becoming more prominent, thereby posing a grave threat to the SAR's high degree of autonomy as promised in the Basic Law.
The government should also take all possible measures to ensure that journalists are able to carry out their legitimate reporting duties, especially during protests; give online and student reporters carrying out legitimate journalistic work equal access to government facilities and news feeds; enact freedom of information and archive laws to ensure that Hong Kong residents, including journalists, have proper access to government information and documents; and adopt an open way of dealing with the media by holding more press conferences.
The Oslo Times International News Network/IFEX