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The national security law: Hong Kong journalists should be more serious about protecting sources and information

Journalists in Hong Kong must be a lot more serious about protecting their sources and data if they are to navigate the new national security law.

That was the opinion of three panelists discussing the impact of the new legislation on press freedom in the city. The event on July 7 came a week after China’s top legislature enacted the law which criminalises any act of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces.

Keith Richburg, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong and a former Washington Post Beijing bureau chief, said he potentially foresees visa restrictions for journalists in Hong Kong who cross the so-called ‘red line’ in their reporting. However, he added that the details of the ‘red line’ have been deliberately vague to allow authorities to be flexible in how the legislation is interpreted.

The key for journalists, Richburg said, was “to figure out how to operate within the law and where the red lines are – coming as close as you can without crossing them”.

Joining Richburg on the panel was Sharron Fast, a legal expert from the Journalism and Media Studies Centre, and author Antony Dapiran. Fast observed that the law is difficult to interpret as two streams had been created – authority, and the Hong Kong judiciary. She highlighted some of the articles that could threaten press freedom in the city, such as Article 41, “one of the  many provisions that waters down the right of a fair trial”, she said. No media is permitted in the courts where the offence is deemed to be state secret, yet there is no definition of state secret.

Dapiran, also a corporate lawyer, raised the issue of protection of information and data in relation to the city’s police being given new powers to search without a warrant obtained through the courts. He advised journalists to be very vigilant about the way they store information and data.

You can watch the entire event here

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