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Hong Kong's dwindling media freedom dealt another blow

As Xi Jinping becomes 'national helmsman,' a further tightening of media is expected
Hong Kong's dwindling media freedom dealt another blow

A file image of an armed policeman being photographed by members of the media outside the High Court in Hong Kong during a high profile case on Oct. 24, 2016. (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP)

Published: March 21, 2018 03:56 AM GMT
Updated: March 21, 2018 05:15 AM GMT

Concerns are deepening that media freedom in Hong Kong will be further eroded under Chinese President Xi Jinping's national security agenda.

Patrick Poon, a researcher for Amnesty International, told ucanews.com that Hong Kong's political climate is already greatly influenced by China.

Since Xi came to power in 2012, Beijing had tightened its grip on a wide range of policy areas, including environmental matters and tolerance of dissent, Poon said.

Abolishing the restriction on Xi leading the nation after his second term expires in 2023 means that even greater interference in Hong Kong's affairs could be expected.

Poon added that Xi's national political dominance would see increased pressure on the Hong Kong administration to legislate in compliance with national security policies.

Shirley Yam, from the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, told ucanews.com that China is not concerned about outside criticism of its treatment of Hong Kong.

And she added that foreign governments, because of China's economic clout, did not take a strong stand on the protection of the rights of Hong Kong residents.

While media outlets in Hong Kong were already self-censoring, future enforcement of Article 23 provisions through new laws would result in more direct media controls.

The unimplemented Article 23 of Hong Kong's post-colonial legal framework, known as the 'Basic Law', provides for stricter legislative prohibitions on treason, secession, sedition and subversion.

There is also scope for the passing of new statutes relating to unauthorized access to "state secrets" and unapproved contacts with foreign political organizations.

In 2003 hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated on the streets of Hong Kong  against Article 23 and its threat to established rights. There have been waves of related protest since.

Hong Kong was returned to China by former colonial power Britain in 1997 with a promise of a 'one country, two systems' approach to local autonomy.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam, interviewed by Hong Kong Radio last December, said it would be "very difficult" to enact new national security laws in the following 12 months.

However, at the beginning of the year when coming into the leadership position Lam stated that she would not act in relation to Article 23 during her first term.

Despite Article 23 not being enacted, media has been restricted in the city. Yam from the Hong Kong Journalists' Association summed the current environment that journalists face. "In the past, if media workers wrote something sensitive, they probably just lost their jobs, but now they may be put in jail," she said.

Resistance to controls within the media industry had waned significantly during the past 15 years, Yam lamented.

She also complained that there had only been limited local media coverage of irregular business-related dealings of former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

Even the scrapping of the leadership term limit on Xi had received inadequate attention.

Only a handful of newspapers had made an issue of the change while others simply remained silent.

While Yam said she could not be optimistic about future prospects for the media, she stressed the importance of using the existing Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act to mitigate against media restrictions.

The Public Records Act obligates government officials to preserve, manage and publicize public files that have an impact on social policies and people's livelihoods.

The Freedom of Information Act protects citizens' right to access various categories of government records.

While also pessimistic, Daisy Li Yuet-Wah, editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong online media outfit CitizenNews, said 99 percent of Hong Kong's population should join the fight to protect the media.

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