Leung Chun-ying's first year as Hong Kong's chief executive has brought about bad omens for freedom of expression and press freedom in Hong Kong. This was a fear expressed in a Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) survey conducted in early 2012 and confirmed in the association's 2013 Annual Report published on 7 July 2013. Further, Mr Leung failed to honour most of the promises in an HKJA charter that he signed in 2012, namely to defend press freedom and play an active role in implementing a freedom of information law.
So what has gone wrong? Plenty. Mr Leung and his ministers have relied increasingly on press statements, instead of holding full press conferences. They issued eight times more statements in the first 11 months of the new administration than his predecessor Donald Tsang did in the same period of his administration in 2005-06. Mr Leung's government also relied on pool arrangements for certain visits in Hong Kong, which prevented journalists from asking the chief executive or his ministers questions about pressing issues. There have also been a few unannounced visits to Beijing, which have only come to light because non-Hong Kong agencies or members of the public have reported on them. Mr Leung also failed to respond adequately to cases of violence against Hong Kong journalists or media organisations in the territory and in mainland China.
Further and of greater concern, Mr Leung sent a warning letter through his lawyers to a Hong Kong Economic Journal writer, Joseph Lian, over a commentary he wrote about Mr Leung. Academics then accused Mr Leung of weakening Hong Kong as a free society. The HKJA agreed that Mr Leung's action undermined press freedom and showed a remarkable degree of intolerance towards critics.
These actions show that Mr Leung failed to defend press freedom in any way. On freedom of information legislation, there were announcements that the Ombudsman and the Law Reform Commission would examine the issue, as well as the enactment of an archives law. But the HKJA felt that the moves could be a stalling tactic, because concrete action rarely follows quickly - if at all.
There is no sign yet that the government will put forward Basic Law Article 23 national security legislation - despite calls for action from Chinese leaders. However, that is no guarantee that nothing will happen before Mr Leung's five-year term is completed. The journalistic community must therefore remain vigilant.
The 2013 Annual Report - titled Dark Clouds on the Horizon - examines these trends, as well as harmful legislation put forward in the year under review and China's growing influence over the Hong Kong media. It also reports on the lengthy process involved in considering whether to grant new free-to-air television licences and further woes at Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) and the digital broadcaster DBC.
The report concludes that Mr Leung and his government have a lot to do to protect and promote press freedom. In particular, it calls on the government to enact freedom of information legislation as a matter of urgency, examine its policies on the release of official information, review its policy on law reform to ensure that freedom of expression concerns are taken into full account in determining the content of new or amended laws, resist Chinese pressure to enact national security legislation, act quickly to open up the free-to-air television market, reverse its decision to retain RTHK as a government department and do all in its power to prevent and solve cases of violence against journalists and media organisations.
Download the report:
hkja_annual_report_2013.pdf (351 KB)