Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has said that Hong Kong is committed to safeguarding press freedom and freedom of speech. His remarks at the Hong Kong News Awards on Monday came in spite of the city plummeting in annual press freedom indices.

Matthew Cheung. Photo: GovHK.

Last month, Paris-based journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders downgraded Hong Kong in its global Press Freedom Index by four places to 73. Benjamin Ismaïl, head of Asia-Pacific desk at the NGO, cited the disappearance of local booksellers, the rise of self-censorship in newsrooms, the editorial line of Alibaba’s South China Morning Post and the government’s treatment of digital media outlets as reasons for the city’s tumbling rating.

‘Free and open’

At the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong presentation luncheon, Cheung praised the professionalism of journalists: “Hong Kong is a free, open and pluralistic society. Freedom of speech, of the press and of publication, as enshrined in Article 27 of the Basic Law, is the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s continuous success as an international metropolis.”

Cheung added that Hong Kong “is committed to safeguarding these vital core values of Hong Kong. We will continue to partner with the press and the media to make Hong Kong flourish and thrive.”

Photo: GovHK.

The government has long-banned digital media outlets from attending government press conferences to ask questions of officials. In January, Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah restated the government’s position, citing the lack of a clear definition of “online media” and other limitations such as venue constraints.

In response, the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned that the government’s continuous ban on digital outlets is “detrimental” to press freedom.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.