An increase in media diversity has marginally improved press freedom in Hong Kong last year, an annual survey by industry watchdog Hong Kong Journalists Association suggested.

HKJA chairperson Sham Yee-lan attributed the slight improvement in conditions to the emergence of digital media outlets, which has enhanced media diversity in the city.

Sham Yee-lan
Sham Yee-lan. File photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Conducted since 2013, the annual Press Freedom Index is calculated from survey responses on a number of issues – including government pressure, self-censorship, access to information, media ownership and media diversity.

The HKJA and the University of Hong Kong together interviewed some 1,000 members of the public and almost 500 journalists in January and February.

Marginal increase

On Thursday, the HKJA announced that the 2016 index increased slightly by 0.6 points to 48 for the general public, and 1.2 points to 39.4 for journalists compared with 2015. A score of 100 represents a maximum level of press freedom.

While Sham believed that the emergence of digital media has improved conditions, she said that digital media outlets were still banned from accessing government press events and facilities. She added that the city still lacked a freedom of information law and archives law.

See also: Public confidence in press freedom at ten-year low, survey says

Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam had signed a pledge to uphold press freedom at an HKJA candidates’ forum during her campaign, promising to enact laws to protect freedom of information and government archives, as well as lift the digital media ban.

carrie lam
Carrie Lam. File photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

“Since obtaining information for news coverage was becoming increasingly difficult, the improvement in the index was limited,” said the HKJA in a press release.

Some 45 per cent of the public and 72 per cent of journalists responding to the survey still perceived that press freedom was in decline.

“The self-censorship rating… still had the lowest score amongst all categories, indicating that the problem was still severe,” read the press release.

See also: Likely end of Cable News a blow to independent, quality reporting in Hong Kong

Since the survey was conducted, however, the parent of i-Cable has announced that it would no longer fund the television network known for its investigative news reporting.

Digital news outlet Initium Media also said on Wednesday that it would lay off a “substantial” amount of staff due to funding concerns.

Carrie Lam meeting

Separately on Wednesday, chief executive-elect Lam met with some 30 media representatives in a closed-door meeting organised by the HKJA.

hong kong journalists association press freedom
File photo: HKFP.

The representatives expressed concern about the state of the media – including the personal safety of journalists, the level of fees required to access corporate records, and low salaries in the media industry.

In a press release issued afterwards, they urged Lam to reform the Hong Kong government’s media policies, as she had promised during her campaign.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.