Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sliding Press Freedoms

On this map, green is "free", yellow is "partly free", purple is "not free"
Yet another ranking of world press freedom has been released and Hong Kong has slid further down the list which is a sad sign of the city's reputation.

Freedom House, a concern group, has ranked Hong Kong 83rd in press freedom, down from last year's 74th place, and 71st in 2013.

The city's new position puts it in the company of such countries as Egypt, Turkey and Central Africa. The survey ranked 199 countries and territories with the categories of "free", "partly free", and "not free".

Hong Kong has maintained its status as "partly free", but the mainland was ranked as "not free" in 186th place. Taiwan was in 48th spot as "free".

The report's title this year is "Discarding Democracy: Return to the Iron Fist" which seems to aptly apply to China, Russia and North Korea.

The watchdog said in its report on Hong Kong that Beijing's enormous economic power and influence had allowed it to exert "considerable indirect pressure" on the city's media that has led to growing self-censorship.

It said the environment for press freedom had deteriorated further in 2014 as "physical attacks against journalists increased, massive cyberattacks crippled widely read news sites at politically significant moments, and businesses withdrew advertising from outlets that were critical of Beijing  and supporters of pro-democracy protesters".

Freedom House was referring to the attack on former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to last February, attacks on journalists during the Occupy protests, and the website of Apple Daily that was hit by major cyberattacks and financial institutions withdrawing advertising from the paper founded by Jimmy Lai Chee-ying.

Sham Yee-lan, chairwoman of the Journalists Association, wasn't surprised by the results, saying polls of journalists and the public here showed similar sentiments.

Norway and Sweden shared top spot in the ranking, while the United States and Britain were ranked 31st and 38th respectively, and at the bottom were North Korea (199), Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (both 197).

For Hong Kong to drop further down the ranking reflects the situation of the city government anxious to follow Beijing's lead, and ignore the needs of residents. There is also the further politicization of issues, that leads to polarization of opinions, making it harder to come to some kind of middle ground.

While the public cares about Hong Kong's press freedom, does its leaders? That is the most telling sign.

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