Hong Kong journalists faced a raft of challenges in the past 12 months, which have posed growing threats to the freedom of the press and expression in the city, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said.
In its annual report released on Sunday, the association said Beijing is becoming increasingly assertive in setting boundaries for the reporting of Hong Kong affairs, especially in cases concerning the “one country, two systems” principle.
The report, titled Red Line Stifles Freedom, analyzes and documents events in the past 12 months that have deepened concerns in the local and international community about freedom of expression and the press in the city, including the ongoing extradition bill saga and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club saga, for which Financial Times Asia editor Victor Mallet was denied a renewal of his work visa.
Despite its pledge of upholding press freedom, transparency and accountability, the government has done little to strengthen institutional safeguards including laws on archives and information access and improve practices in the dissemination of information, the HKJA said.
At a press conference, HKJA chairman Chris Yeung Kin-hing cited instances of violence and harassment journalists confronted when covering protests triggered by the extradition bill in recent weeks.
Data from the association showed there had been a total of 29 complaints filed by journalists against the police force over alleged use of excessive force during the protests against the extradition bill as of Sunday, including one journalist suffering from a broken finger after being hit by a police baton.
Suspecting that officers were targeting journalists at protest scenes, Yeung stressed that if they are not given easy and safe access to the places where news are unfolding, the people’s right to know and freedom of press will be jeopardized, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.
Yeung also noted that since President Xi Jinping said in his speech on July 1 , 2017 that “any threat to China’s sovereignty and security or to the power of the central government crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible”, not only the journalism sector but also the arts sector in Hong Kong has been impacted, with the chilling effect having been pervasive.
The HKJA urged the government to reaffirm its commitment to uphold freedom of expression and freedom of the press through concrete actions and convincing words as well as to promise that Article 23 legislation will not be tabled unless a consensus is reached in society.
The association also called on the government to set up an independent investigation committee to probe the alleged use of force by police against media workers covering extradition bill protests on June 10 and June 12 and find out whether such police violence involves high-level instructions.
In related news, the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association said in a statement issued in the early hours of Monday that police officers used shields to ram frontline reporters and berated or assaulted them during the clearance action in Mong Kok, even though they wore reflective vests on which “journalist” were printed, RTHK reported.
Police late Sunday night dispersed anti-extradition bill activists occupying Nathan Road.
Such police behavior not only seriously impeded news reporting but also infringed on the freedom of the press, according to the statement.
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