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Macau press freedom survey: Journalists cite decline in access to information

SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP SCMP photographer Felix Wong was prevented from entering Macau. Photo: SCMP

Press freedom still exists in Macau in spite of a growing trend among authorities to limit access to information, according to a survey of journalists operating in the special administrative region.

While 79.55% of reporters surveyed agreed there was press freedom and 70.45% said they had never been subject to a violation of press freedom rights, a majority said that they had encountered obstacles in accessing sources of information, particularly the judiciary (68.18%). The survey found that 58.82% of respondents described access to the Government as the executive body as ‘difficult’; and 54.55% said the same of access to the group executing governmental policy and providing services to the residents of the MSAR.

The relatively small number (20.45%) who said they had been subject to a violation of press freedom rights detailed incidents including the ‘Case of the Gravesites’, in which one journalist described a refusal of rights to sign notices of political nature; or of Oktoberfest 2015, in which “during the press conference the journalists were instructed to not ask questions that weren’t related to the event, as well as being instructed to ask questions about the brand of beer sponsoring the event”.

The survey, conducted in November 2016 by the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association (AIPIM), comes just weeks after the publication of the 2017 annual World Press Freedom Index in which Reporters Without Borders (RSF) highlighted Thailand, where the media industry is increasingly muzzled by a military government; and Cambodia, where defamation laws have been criminalised to silence dissent.

Since the survey was conducted, Macau has been at the centre of two incidents indicating an erosion of press freedom. In August this year, four journalists – one from HK01, one from South China Morning Post and two from Apple Daily – were trying to cover the clean-up work in Macau after the enclave was heavily hit by the Severe Typhoon Hato. They were denied entry on the grounds that they ‘posed a threat to the stability of the territory’s internal security’.

Shortly afterwards, the AIPIM learned that the Electoral Affairs Commission for the Legislative Assembly Election (CAEAL) had ordered weekly newspaper Plataforma to remove from its online edition an interview with a candidate to the Legislative Assembly elections.

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The AIPIM survey concluded: “Based on a thorough analysis of this survey, we may conclude that the major problem faced by the journalistic community is precisely access to sources, namely in what concerns information that should be public and is concealed as a result of a system where journalists are forced to request it via the Government Spokesperson mechanism. The area which is conspicuously more problematic is the judiciary.

“The survey allows us to conclude that in their daily work journalists are faced with difficulties in accessing sources of information which allow them to better understand the surrounding environment and obstacles in obtaining answers to questions that loom while performing their duty as journalists.”

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