Friday, 13 February 2015

Where's HK's Press Freedom?

Press freedom in colours from yellow: satisfactory to black: difficult situation
As if Hong Kong needed further indication that its media landscape is deteriorating, Reporters Without Borders has released its annual report with the city dropping to its lowest ever position since the rankings came out in 2002.

Hong Kong is now at 70th place in terms of press freedom, compared to 61st last year, and 58th in 2013.

In 2002 the city was ranked 18th, and then plunge to 56th the following year.

The international media watchdog cited some events in the past year that were cause for concern, including the knife attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to, suspicions that Beijing had a hand in the sudden closure of pro-democracy website House News, and accusations that there was self-censorship in the media on covering the Umbrella Movement protests.

For some perspective, China was ranked 176th of 180 countries, also its lowest ranking since it began, while Taiwan was at 51st place, and Japan 61st.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Sham Yee-lan blamed the Leung Chun-ying administration. "The government has shown no respect to the press. Our officials now like to write blogs, instead of hosting proper press conferences, to discuss public policy issues," she said.

Press freedom is measured by the degree of freedom reporters, media and netizens enjoy and the efforts made by governments to ensure respect for this freedom.

Hong Kong is the tiny orange dot next to China...
The index is compiled using information compiled from questionnaires sent to partner organizations around the world as well as local journalists, researchers and human rights activists.

In an overall statement, the group said: "Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents.

"Two-thirds of the 180 countries surveyed for the 2015 index performed less well than in the previous year," it said.

Finland topped the list for the fifth year in the row, followed by Norway and Denmark. In last place was the African nation of Eritrea, then North Korea and Turkmenistan in Central Asia. The United States was ranked 49th, down three places.

Hong Kong's ranking is utterly disappointing, but not surprising. The biggest concern is what will be done about the situation, and sadly probably not much, given the current climate of Beijing taking a keener interest in Hong Kong affairs following the Occupy protests.

It's a sad state of affairs when reporters have to find out the latest government news on websites, eerily replicating what's done in China (particularly on Friday afternoons), and there is little opportunity for reporters to engage with officials and hold them accountable for their statements or actions.

When journalists cannot do their jobs, then how can the public find out what's really going on? They too are distrustful of the government. This lack of information only exacerbates tensions between the authorities and the people, resulting in further disillusionment.

Does this mean another Umbrella Movement brewing as we speak?

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