Hong Kong: Unwelcoming place for international media? - Punch Newspapers
For decades, Hong Kong has remained the favourite hub for the international media. The Hong Kong authorities were tolerant towards dissent. But they broke that tradition definitely as they broadened a crackdown on dissent to cover journalists from overseas.
An Australian correspondent, Sue-Lin Wong, has been denied the work visa by the immigration authorities. He used to work for the Financial Times. He is the fourth foreign journalist to be expelled from the former British colony since 2018, when the authorities declined to renew a work permit for Victor Mallet, the then-Asia news editor for the Financial Times, after he hosted a talk by Hong Kong independence activist, Andy Chan.
Hong Kong-based foreign correspondents’ club recently did a survey on press freedom which made startling revelations about the prevailing conditions for press in the city. According to the survey, nearly half of the foreign journalists were mulling over to leave the city because of tough conditions.
As per the survey, members were concerned about a decline in press freedoms as a result of a comprehensive national security statute enforced by Beijing in the aftermath of major anti-government protests in 2019. Eighty three of the 99 journalists admitted that the working atmosphere was becoming worse since the national security law was imposed on June 30, 2020. The ordinance, which prohibits subversion, secession, terrorism, and foreign collaboration in city affairs, has been utilised to arrest over 120 people in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. The FCC President, Keith Richburg, demanded that there was a need to restore confidence of journalists and to make sure Hong Kong maintained its decades-long reputation as a welcoming place for the international media. Even since the national security law came into effect, the former British colony’s media landscape has changed for the worse.
Hong Kong is home to several English language news outlets for decades. The former British colony which touts free flow of information as being among the keys to its success, hosts the offices and regional headquarters of several international media organisations like New York Times, Reuters and Bloomberg. But after the national security law came into effect, the international financial centre is on the way to lose the status of the favourite place for media persons.
Journalists in Hong Kong do not require special credentials, only a standard work permit that historically has been relatively easy to obtain. As well as a gateway to China, the city has for decades served as a base for journalists to cover the wider region, playing a role in the coverage of major news events such as the Vietnam War and the 1969 Malaysian race riots.
That is no longer the case. Hong Kong Journalists Association’s poll survey found that the level of media freedom in Hong Kong for media workers has plunged to a record low after the imposition of the national security law. Done in May, the poll has made startling revelations.
Approximately 85% of the journalists who took part in the survey are concerned about the suppression of press freedom by the Hong Kong government, while 40 per cent of them felt pressure from their superiors when covering politically sensitive issues, such as Hong Kong independence.
The vast majority of journalists surveyed have rated the national security law, which was implemented on June 30, 2020, as harmful to press freedom. The legislation, imposed by Beijing, punishes actions deemed by the authorities as secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces with heavy penalties, including life imprisonment. However, the International Federation of Journalists has urged Hong Kong authorities to stop targeting journalists and media organisations and to respect freedom of the press.
A correspondent for the Paris-based Le Monde and former president of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Florence de Changy, stated that Beijing’s “rectification campaign” since the imposition of a sweeping national security law last year has exceeded people’s worst fears. Anything that may upset the Chinese authorities would put foreign journalists in trouble.
Realising the disadvantages of having no foreign media, the US and China have decided to ease travel restrictions on each other’s journalists. The move came ahead of strained bilateral ties. Will China change its rules for foreign correspondents? What about correspondents from other countries.
It is time to see where the former British colony is moving towards.