The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has noted “unprecedented hardship” in Hong Kong’s media industry in a new report, as well as “an overall negative trajectory for press freedom” in China.

The global press freedom union began monitoring China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan in 2008, when the authorities promised a more free media ahead of the Beijing Olympics that year. Since then, the NGO has recorded over 900 media violations in the region.

In its report, entitled A Decade of Decline, the IFJ said that “the general trend over the past 10 years has been bleak,” as it identified the election of Xi Jinping as the Communist Party’s general secretary in 2012 and president in 2013 as “the major turning point.”

Photo: IFJ report.

It noted that while changes have been made such as holding press conferences after important events, or the decline of physical attacks on journalists, Xi “instigated nearly 30 new laws, increased pressure on both the state media and independent media to act as propaganda vehicles for the Communist Party, and used tactics such as publicising forced confessions that had not been seen since the era of Chairman Mao Zedong.”

“There is no doubt that China under Xi Jinping is only increasing its efforts to block the right to information and suppress freedom of speech,” the IFJ said on Friday at the release of the report.

Photo: IFJ.

“Combined with this, is China’s notorious reputation as one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists with an ever-growing list facing detention or already locked away in jails for their efforts to bring critical information to light.”

The report noted in particular the restrictive orders and harsh tactics – including enforced disappearances – around the 19th National Congress, the censorship of information relating to the death of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, and Voice of America’s interview with Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui – which was abruptly cut off.

Photo: IFJ.

With regards to Hong Kong, the report noted that at least 100 journalists were attacked during the 2014 Umbrella Movement and later during the Mong Kok unrest in 2016.

It also mentioned Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s election, the sudden removal of political satire programme Headliner from TVB’s original schedule, the harassment of Sing Pao journalists, threats sent to Hong Kong Free Press staff, and the South China Morning Post’s deletion of a column linking Xi’s right-hand man with a secretive Singapore investor.

Meanwhile, in Macau, the government “continued to put pressure on local journalists” while selectively barring journalists from entering the city for “security” reasons, it added.

“Sadly, the situation of press freedom in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau has continued to go backwards, and there are few signs that it will improve in the coming decade… We understand there is a lot of work ahead, but we believe that journalists can make a difference if we continue to work together in solidarity,” the report said.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.