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Press freedom has deteriorated under China, say HK journalists

Nearly six out of 10 journalists in Hong Kong believe press freedom has diminished since the territory returned to Chinese sovereignty.

Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) members staging a protest. About 60 per cent of the journalists interviewed thought that self-censorship was more serious now than 10 years ago as evidenced by the recent tendency of the press to downplay either negative news of the Central government (mentioned by about 20 per cent of respondents from the media) or news that the government would perceive as sensitive issues (about 20 per cent reporting this problem).

A recent survey conducted by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) found that 58.4 per cent of journalists think press freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated since the handover, mainly as a result of self-censorship, and also due to the Chinese government’s tighter grip on the flow of information.

About 60 per cent of the journalists interviewed thought that self-censorship was more serious now than 10 years ago as evidenced by the recent tendency of the press to downplay either negative news of the Central government (mentioned by about 20 per cent of respondents from the media) or news that the government would perceive as sensitive issues (about 20 per cent reporting this problem).

Among the interviewees, 30 per cent admitted having committed self-censorship over the past 12 months. About 40 per cent knew either their colleagues or supervisors had done so as well.

Expressing shock at the findings, HKJA, in a release said, “As self-censorship is not a ‘socially desirable’ activity, we can justifiably believe that the real situation might even be worse.”

“This is a very serious problem. It really shocks us because you can see there are very, very frightening figures from this report,” HKJA chairperson Serenade Woo told reporters, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report. Christopher Warren, president of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said: “It really illustrates what is, without a doubt, a major challenge within the media in Hong Kong.”

“I think the situation is very serious. One of the things we do learn from China from the last couple of years is that press freedom doesn’t always move forward, that it can also go backward,” Warren said. “We are worried. We know within the mainland there is increasing pressure on journalists in the lead-up to the Olympics,” he said.

Only 13.1 per cent of the respondents regarded self-censorship as the major problem they were facing. Others thought that being superficial in reporting was a bigger problem (27.6 per cent ). This was followed by a concern over low salaries and insufficient welfare provisions (16.5 per cent ), while 16.3 per cent felt that the press was becoming increasingly sensational.

Warren said reporters should put pressure on managers to support editorial independence and urged local journalists to work against self-censorship. “I think journalists can do a lot ... they need to take their own lessons from (the poll) and within their own newsroom and that means supporting each other and putting pressures back on managers to allow proper reporting,” he added.

The views of the general public, however, differed from those of journalists. To the public, the problem of highest concern was the lack of accuracy (20 per cent ). However, even more people (45.5 per cent ) responded with “don’t know” or “no comment”. This showed that regardless of their receiving news and information from the media, members of the public in fact did not know enough about the inner working mechanisms of the media, HKJA concluded.

There were issues on which the public and the press shared similar views, differing only in terms of the degree. For instance, both (53.7 per cent of the public interviewed and 46.2 per cent of the journalists) felt that in comparison to 10 years ago, the government now exerted more influence over the press; and that the press practised more self-censorship. They also shared the view that self-censorship could be seen as an attempt to whitewash bad news about the Central government and to guess what the Central government would perceive as sensitive issues.

The survey was commissioned by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and was carried out by the Public Governance Programme at Lingnan University. It was conducted in two phases; a questionnaire for journalists, and a telephone survey targeting members of the general public. The journalists’ survey, for which 1,84 questionnaires were distributed with 506 of them returned (rate of response being 34.12 per cent), was conducted in January. The second took the form of random phone interviews with 734 individuals and a response rate of 47.1 per cent . With a confidence level of 95 per cent , the random error was approximately ±3.5 per cent .

Date posted: February 12, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 2739