25 February 2020
Hong Kong Journalists' Association, led by chairman Chris Yeung (center), releases the group's latest annual report on Sunday. Photo: RTHK
Hong Kong Journalists' Association, led by chairman Chris Yeung (center), releases the group's latest annual report on Sunday. Photo: RTHK

‘Red money’ poses a threat to HK media independence: HKJA

Rising investments by mainland Chinese businessmen in Hong Kong media outlets is a cause for concern, a journalists’ group said, warning that the “red money” could worsen the problem of self-censorship among the city’s newspapers and TV stations.

In its latest annual report, the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) noted that eight of the 26 mainstream media outlets in Hong Kong are effectively controlled by Chinese money as of now.

In the report titled “Two systems under siege: Beijing turns the screws on Hong Kong media”, the association pointed out that by the end of the year, i-Cable will join the list of entities relying on Chinese capital.

That will take the number of Hong Kong media entities that are under mainland control or have significant Chinese ownership stakes to nine, raising the proportion to about 35 percent, the HKJA said.

Beijing used to take a back-seat role earlier, but the approach seems to have changed since 2003 after Hong Kong witnessed mass protests against proposed national security laws.

With authorities realizing the need for a docile press, mainland businessmen and enterprises were encouraged to invest in Hong Kong media entities and try to ensure favorable coverage for Beijing. 

The efforts to gain control over Hong Kong media gained further momentum after Xi Jinping’s ascent to power and the Occupy pro-democracy protests during this decade, the HKJA noted in its 2017 report. 

“After President Xi Jinping came to power and the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy movement in Hong Kong, Beijing moved into the driver’s seat,” it said, according to the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Mak Yin-ting, a former HKJA chairwoman, said there has been enough evidence to suggest that media self-censorship is getting more and more serious in Hong Kong.

The situation makes one wonder whether the problems are due to the infiltration of Chinese capital in local media, Mak said.

HKJA chairman Chris Yeung pointed out that the media has the responsibility to play a watchdog role on the government.

Propagandizing or speaking for those in power can only harm the cause of free press, Apple Daily quoted him as saying.

The HKJA urged Hong Kong’s new administration to take immediate action to defend the city’s high degree of autonomy and refrain from enacting national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law until society reaches a consensus on the issue.

Noting that Carrie Lam, who was sworn as the chief executive on July 1, had signed a press freedom charter during her election campaign, the HKJA asked the new leader to fulfill her promises, including enacting of freedom of information and archives laws.

Among other things, the journalists’ association called on the government to stop the practice of using blog posts to announce major policies, something that was often seen during the previous Leung Chun-ying administration.

Replacing press conferences with online announcements will deprive the media of opportunities to question the government, the HKJA said.

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