The past 12 months have been one of the most challenging periods for press freedom, not just in Hong Kong but across the region. The military coup in Myanmar, the crackdown on protests in Thailand and attacks on independent media in the Philippines have all threatened the physical safety and personal liberty of reporters.
In Hong Kong, which has fallen to 80th place on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, from 18th in 2002, journalists have contended with a range of challenges, including new police limits on accreditation, the prosecution of members of the media, ever increasing pressure on the editorial independence of RTHK, concerns over visas and an attack by thugs on a newspaper printing plant.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has said that the media are one of the priority sectors in Hong Kong that need to be “improved” and, with the support of Police Commissioner Chris Tang, says she wants to introduce a “fake news” law. Precedents from around the world have shown that such laws are invariably used to stifle critical coverage and freedom of speech.
On World Press Freedom Day, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong wishes to express its solidarity with journalists who are facing harassment, imprisonment or risking their lives to carry out their essential mission. The club is committed to defending press freedom in Hong Kong and across the region by speaking up when it is under threat, by providing resources and workshops for working reporters, and inviting prominent Hong Kong and international journalists and personalities to speak at the club on matters of public concern.
The Hong Kong Police Force Public Relations Branch has issued this response to the FCC’s letter to Commissioner of Police Chris Tang regarding his recent comments on “fake news”, which is posted in full below.
The Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in the HKSAR issued the following response to the FCC’s statement regarding the prosecution of journalist Bao Choy:
The spokesperson of the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in the HKSAR expressed strong disapproval of and firm opposition against the unwarranted remarks by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong (FCC) and certain other external forces about the Hong Kong judiciary’s trial of a case related to false statements. Such comments openly vilified the SAR Government and trampled upon the rule of law on the pretext of press freedom, and constituted a blatant interference in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs.
The spokesperson said that Hong Kong is governed by the rule of law, where the law shall be strictly abided by, any lawbreaker shall be held accountable, and no organization or individual shall be above the law. The fact for the particular case was clear and the evidence solid. Both the Hong Kong police’s arrest of the suspect and the judicial proceedings complied with the law and had nothing to do with press freedom, which is enshrined in the Basic Law of the HKSAR and the Law of the PRC on Safeguarding National Security in the HKSAR. Some external forces, however, have tried to exploit the case and distorted the truth by alleging that press freedom is stifled in Hong Kong. It has only laid bare their ulterior motive to seek privileges above the law under the guise of press freedom, obstruct the SAR Governmnent’s law-based governance, and undermine Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. But such wishful thinking will only come to naught.
The spokesperson emphasized that since the anti-amendment unrest, the Hong Kong police have lived up to their duty and rigorously enforced the law with admiring professionalism and commitment for the purpose of safeguarding national security and Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, and protecting Hong Kong resident’s interests and well-being. The Hong Kong community and all those who love both the city and the country have born testimony to the fact. We firmly support the SAR Government’s law-based governance, and support the Hong Kong police’s legitimate efforts to combat violence and crime, uphold law and order, and ensure the continuous success of “One Country, Two Systems”.
The spokesperson reiterated that Hong Kong is part of China. We urge the FCC and relevant external forces to face the facts, know their place, truly respect Hong Kong’s rule of law and judicial independence, and avoid saying one thing but doing another, still less meddle with Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs at large on the pretext of press freedom.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong on 22 April delivered a letter to Commissioner of Police Chris Tang seeking clarity regarding his recent comments on prosecuting “fake news.” The FCC is publishing the letter in full below.
Related: How ‘Fake News’ Legislation Stifles Critical Reporting
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong strongly condemns the prosecution of Bao Choy, the former RTHK journalist convicted on Thursday for her use of a public database in the course of reporting a documentary.
The government’s actions against Choy set a dangerous precedent. They open the door to further legal action against journalists for engaging in routine reporting. They will also deter journalists from accessing legally available public records in Hong Kong.
Although Choy will not go to jail, she will be left with a criminal record and be forced to pay an HKD 6,000 (US$774) fine for only doing her job. In delivering her verdict, the judge accused Choy of misrepresenting herself and asked her to find other ways to seek the information she needed for her report.
However, the government has narrowed the categories of who could access the data in question and why. It is clear that Choy was singled out and punished for a search that is routinely conducted by journalists in Hong Kong. Choy’s documentary investigated the actions of police during an attack on protesters and commuters that took place at the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019.
While we appreciate that the judge overseeing the case spared Choy jail time, citing the merits of her reporting and the public interest involved, we wish the prosecutors had shown similar restraint and never brought this case in the first place.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is alarmed and deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating media environment in Myanmar and the dangers faced by journalists reporting there. Since February 1, when the military seized power in a coup, journalists and media organizations have been relentlessly targeted by security forces. Publishing licenses have been revoked, journalists have been arrested, beaten and at least one has been shot while working. The offices of media organizations have been raided. Some journalists have gone into hiding or fled the country.
The crackdown is wide ranging; international media organizations, large and small platforms as well as ethnic media outlets have all been affected. All of the gains the country made in recent years towards a freer press environment stand to be lost if the targeting of the media continues.
Despite these threats and at great personal safety risk, journalists continue to fearlessly report, bringing the stories and images of a country in crisis to the world. Security forces should allow reporters to work without interference. Those arrested should be immediately released and the charges against them dropped so they can return to their jobs and families.
In an effort to aid the important work of reporters, below is a list of media outlets and assistance organizations currently active in Myanmar. The FCC commends their work and is providing links for members and the public to donate to their efforts:
Burma News International
Friends of Myanmar
Myanmar Labour News
Print for Crisis
The exhibition “Myanmar’s Bold Anti-coup Movement”, featuring the work of Frontier Myanmar’s photojournalists, is currently on display at the FCC through April 30. Non-members are welcome to view the exhibition from 10am-12 noon and 3-5:30pm daily.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong strongly condemns the attack on the Epoch Times’ printing presses and calls for the perpetrators to be brought swiftly to justice.
The newspaper posted CCTV images of the four attackers smashing equipment with sledge hammers and said that they had threatened staff with violence during the early morning raid on Monday 12 April.
The FCC insists that media should be able operate freely without fear of violence in Hong Kong regardless of their political stance.
The Epoch Times’ printing plant was targeted in a similar attack during the Hong Kong protests in November 2019.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, urges the government to reconsider the proposed changes to the Companies Ordinance that will remove from public access certain identifying details of company directors. The FCC believes such changes will be harmful to press freedom and transparency in the city.
The companies registry is an important tool long used by journalists to improve accountability, expose wrongdoing, and bring to light important matters of public concern. Financial, legal and compliance professionals also make extensive use of the companies registry in the course of ordinary business. Restricting access to the residential addresses and Hong Kong ID card numbers of company directors, as proposed by the government, will greatly diminish the utility of the companies registry and impede the work of a wide range of professionals working in Hong Kong’s public interest.
While the FCC shares the government’s concern about “doxxing”—of which journalists are frequent targets—the club does not believe that the proposed changes will have a meaningful impact on the practice. The FCC welcomes the opportunity to share additional input on the proposal.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, expresses its solidarity with journalists working in Myanmar and calls on the military government to respect media freedom.
The FCC also calls for all restrictions to be lifted on the internet and communications, which are essential both for journalists in the exercise of their profession and for the free flow of information.
The club will continue to monitor the situation in the days and weeks ahead.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Clubs and Associations of Japan, Hong Kong, Jakarta, the Philippines, South Asia, Taiwan and Thailand are very concerned to learn that Haze Fan, a Chinese employee working for Bloomberg News, has been detained in Beijing.
The FCCs stand by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in its efforts to seek an explanation on why the Chinese authorities detained Fan.
The clubs also join together in expressing alarm at reports of deteriorating conditions for journalists working for international media in China.
Fan has worked with Bloomberg since 2017. Other outlets she worked for before include Al Jazeera, CBS News, CNBC, and Thomson Reuters.
She has been missing since Monday, December 7th. Bloomberg received confirmation of her arrest on ‘suspicion of engaging in activities that jeopardize national security’ only on Thursday.
Chinese nationals perform invaluable roles in support of foreign media in China. Without their work, it would be difficult for foreign media to operate in China, and their safety is a matter of the highest concern.
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Jakarta
Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia
Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand