Journalists in Hong Kong are facing serious harassment, risks and internal pressures such as self-censorship, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
In its annual report published on Sunday (PDF), the HKJA said that local reporters are suffering attacks “from all quarters”. It listed 30 cases of physical injuries during the pro-democracy Occupy protests last year and said that journalists were often treated with disdain by the police.
HKJA chairperson Sham Yee-lan said: “I have been in the industry for 30 years and have never seen a year with so many reporters being attacked. This is very sad.”
In its report, the association referred to cases such as TVB altering the commentary on a video allegedly showing a pro-democracy activist being attacked by police officers. It also voiced concern over senior staff being sacked from newspapers, turmoil at RTHK and ATV, government secrecy over the movements of officials and the trend of ministers shunning reporters in favour of writing their own blogs.
The report questioned how local media reported on a controversy over a payment of HK$50 million made to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying by Australian company UGL and said that online media outlets suffered unfair treatment at the hands of the police.
The report also criticised a move by the South China Morning Post requiring that columnists seek prior approval before submitting opinion pieces. It said that, in mid-May, Editor-in-Chief Wang Xiangwei wrote to every columnist stating: “we will no longer require you to file your regular column… Instead, we would encourage you to email proposals on your specific areas of expertise to the op-ed editor for consideration.”
In a press release, the HKJA said that “pressure is growing on journalists to tailor their stories to the establishment view.” It called upon the government “to take all possible measures to ensure that journalists are able to carry out their legitimate reporting duties, especially during protests” and for the police “to be given clear instructions on how to handle journalists with respect.” It also urged the government to review its broadcast licensing policies and increase transparency.
The Hong Kong Press Freedom Index, published annually by the HKJA, showed a decline to 48.8 in the index for the general public. The drop among journalists was more marked – down 3.1 points to 38.9.