The past year has been an “extremely difficult” time for Hong Kong’s press freedom as One Country, Two Systems principle is under threat, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).

In its annual report published last Thursday, HKJA said that Hong Kong had been affected by tightening ideological control in China during the past year. The report also criticised the Hong Kong government for not allowing online journalists to attend its media events and access its news feed.

HKJA annual report
Hong Kong Journalists Association. Photo: Hong Kong Journalists Association, via Facebook.

The report cited the Hong Kong Press Freedom Index, published annually by the HKJA, which showed a decline to 38.2 in the index among journalists. The drop among the general public was more marked – down 1.4 points to 47.4.

See also: Journalists Association files complaint with Ombudsman over online media ban

Sham Yee-lan, HKJA chairperson, expressed concern that the Hong Kong Press Freedom Index had reached its all-time low, as it showed “press freedom was being eroded at its roots.”

Hong Kong Journalists Association statement. Photo: HKJA, via Facebook.

Missing booksellers: ‘Landmark incident’ 

Citing the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who published and distributed books that were critical of the Communist Party of China, HKJA called it a “landmark incident” which challenged the ability of One Country, Two Systems principle to protect Hong Kong citizens from efforts to eliminate opposition voices.

In June, one of the five booksellers, Lam Wing-kee, said he was kidnapped from Shenzhen to Ningbo last October by a Chinese special unit, and was detained in China for around eight months before returning to Hong Kong.

“The disappearance of the five booksellers… has been symbolic of the deteriorating political environment in the wake of an ideological crackdown in mainland China led by President Xi Jinping. This has had an undoubted adverse impact on freedom of expression and press freedom in Hong Kong,” said the report.

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The HKU pro-vice-chancellor debacle

The report also mentioned the incident in which Johannes Chan Man-mun, former dean at the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law, was refused a senior managerial position at the institution by the HKU Council due to political reasons.

HKJA said that while HKU had applied for an injunction which stopped the media from disclosing details of its council meetings. The media watchdog has been fighting the case in court and the result – which had yet to be delivered – would have a strong impact on press freedom, it said.

Johannes Chan
Johannes Chan. File

HKJA: Gov’t should take ‘all possible measures’

The Journalism Association further urged the government to give accreditation to online and student reporters, saying that the emerging online news websites often act as a partial counter to what critics perceive as a pro-establishment bias in traditional media in the city.

See also: Online media outlets to be granted permanent access to legislature, but still barred by gov’t

The report also said that the Hong Kong government should take all possible measures to ensure that journalists are able to carry out their legitimate reporting duties, legislate to grant Hong Kong residents proper access to government information and adopt an open way of dealing with the media by holding more press conferences.

Gene Lin is a Journalism and Computer Science student at The University of Hong Kong. He worked as a reporter for the 'LIVE: Verified Updates' during the Occupy Central protests. He is also an editor at HKU's first English-language student paper, The Lion Post.