The general public’s evaluation of press freedom in Hong Kong has dropped to its lowest since the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s (HKJA) annual survey began in 2013. The study – published on Wednesday – cited increasing pressure from the central government.

Respondents gave the city a press freedom a rating of 47.1 out of 100, with 100 representing a maximum level of press freedom.

Meanwhile, media workers rated press freedom as 40.3 out of 100 – an increase of 0.9 compared to last year. The researchers attributed this to a decrease in violent incidents targeting reporters. However, 73 per cent of journalists responded that, overall, press freedom was in decline compared to the year before.

hkja press freedom
Photo: Inmedia.

Hong Kong’s press freedom rating has never surpassed 50 percent, researchers said.

The HKJA’s chair Chris Yeung Kin-hing said that journalists’ mentality had also reached a low-point in recent years, despite the slight rating increase.

“I think right now some media or residents are seeing some kinds of political pressure are growing bigger and bigger, whether it’s from the central government or from members of the pro-establishment in Hong Kong.”

The annual survey encompasses several issues including government pressure, self-censorship, access to information, media ownership and media diversity.

The poll was conducted by the HKJA and the University of Hong Kong between January and February. Researchers conducted phone interviews with around 1,000 members of the public and collected surveys from around 500 members of the press.

‘One Country before Two Systems’

According to researchers, members of the general public said the most common concern was the media having misgivings over criticising the central government. They said the rating for this factor contributed to the drop in the overall press freedom rating.

hkja press freedom
Chris Yeung. Photo: Inmedia.

Journalists ranked several events last year in the order that they thought was most damaging to press freedom. At the top was Macau’s refusals to allow Hong Kong journalists to enter, followed by TVB’s rescheduling of a political satire show in order to broadcast a speech by Xi Jinping, the South China Morning Post pulling an opinion piece on the Peninsula Hotel investor’s links to the Beijing government, and pressure from the central government to legislate the national security law.

Half of journalists surveyed said Beijing was one of the biggest factors affecting press freedom – an increase from 38 per cent the year before – replacing the SAR government as one of the the top three factors. The other two top concerns were self-censorship and media bosses. 63 per cent responded that central government officials “favoured one country before two systems,” making them uncomfortable while reporting voices with different stances.

The HKJA’s Shirley Yam said that, if they had conducted the poll in recent weeks, the wave of attacks against law professor Benny Tai, would have dragged the press freedom rating down even further.

“As reporters, we must consider one problem – going forward, if there are similar people making similar remarks and we are reporting on it, then are we also advocating independence, are we violating any of Hong Kong’s laws?

“If reporters have such questions, this will naturally affect whether they write it, don’t write it, and how much they write, these are actually very real fears and concerns.”

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.