An index of press freedom in Hong Kong has dropped to its lowest level ever, suggesting the influence of political forces on the city’s media industry has continued to grow.
The Hong Kong Press Freedom Index, released on Tuesday, was 47.1 on a scale of 0 to 100 for the general public in 2017, down 0.9 point from a year earlier, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), which compiles the index annually through surveys of journalists and the general public.
That was the lowest reading since the survey was launched in 2013, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
More than 1,000 members of the public were interviewed by phone for the survey in the middle of January.
The decline was largely due to the public’s perception that it was more common for local news media to hesitate in criticizing the central government, the HKJA said.
Some of the respondents also pointed out management of media outlets tended to put pressure on their frontline reporters.
While the index was up 0.9 points to 40.3 for journalists, seven in 10 of the more than 500 respondents, who were interviewed between mid-January and end-February, were of the view that press freedom in Hong Kong had become worse compared to a year ago.
The survey found their biggest worry was self-censorship.
The HKJA said a major finding of the survey was that both the public and journalists saw pressure from the central government as a major factor threatening press freedom in Hong Kong.
As such, the association urged Beijing to respect press freedom and adopt an attitude of restraint when exercising its powers.
It also stressed that Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires Hong Kong to implement laws against treason, secession, and subversion, should not be enacted before society reaches a consensus on the issue.
Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chairman of the association, said the incumbent SAR government has done little to change the factors that are considered harmful to the press freedom in Hong Kong since it took power, while Beijing’s focus on “one country” has raised concerns that the “two systems” may be weakened.
Yeung said the index could have shown a higher degree of pessimism if the survey was conducted after the recent saga involving Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the leaders of the 2014 Occupy Movement and the associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), who was accused of advocating Hong Kong independence in Taiwan last month, because no one could say for sure whether reporting it would violate the law.
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