“Beijing is almost certainly at work, relying on liegemen who anticipate its wishes and ensure they are granted,” Reporters without Borders (RSF) said in a new report entitled The Invisible Hand on Hong Kong’s Media which examined press freedom in the city.

“Even if Beijing’s fingerprints are only faint, the increasing difficulties encountered by the Hong Kong media in their coverage of Chinese affairs show that the fight for freedom of information about China is now being fought outside as well as inside the People’s Republic,” it said. “From now on, combating censorship involves thwarting China’s strategy for muzzling information and imposing its propaganda beyond the mainland.”

Press Freedom Reporters without borders
Photo: Reporters Without Borders.

In a press release accompanying the publication, RSF said that the case in which Keung Kwok-yuen, Ming Pao’s former executive chief editor, was abruptly sacked on April 20 was “the latest blatant violation of media freedom.” The Chinese newspaper had claimed that Keung was fired because there was a need to “save resources” and “cut costs” in a “difficult operational environment”.

The report also mentioned the purchase of the South China Morning Post by Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba, as well as the purchase of a majority stake in TVB by Li Ruigang, dubbed “China’s Rupert Murdoch” through a “state-backed private equity fund China Media Capital.”

press freedom
Photo: HKFP.

It also cited Hong Kong Television Network’s failure to obtain a broadcast license since 2013 as well as Commercial Radio, which received “many warnings about its coverage of local politics since 2013, above all from Chief Executive CY Leung [Leung Chun-ying]”. It said they were examples of the government increasingly exerting pressures on the media.

The journalism watchdog, based in France, called upon the government, especially Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to “stop violating the right to receive and impart information, and to respond to the legitimate aspirations of organizations that defend freedom of the press and information.” They also called for “the Special Administrative Region’s authorities to reverse their insidious policies towards the media as a matter of urgency.”

In April, Leung said: “The SAR government will continue to maintain freedom of speech in Hong Kong, not simply because it is the responsibility of the government or because it is a core value of Hong Kong, but because it is a necessary condition for Hong Kong as an international city.”

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.