Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said the question of whether Hong Kong’s media will be censored or face legal action over covering people who make pro-independence remarks will depend on the situation and the law.

Carrie Lam. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Lam was asked by HKFP if she could guarantee that the press would not face legal action or censorship in the future: “Nobody can answer a question like this. Nobody has a crystal ball in front of him or her, so [one cannot] guarantee that certain actions, certain behaviour will not be breaching the law – because the law is evolving,” Lam said.

“So the answer to your question, it will depend on the situation, depend on the law, depend on that particular behaviour.”

‘Chilling effect’

Last week, the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s (HKJA) Shirley Yam voiced concerns over the recent attacks on academic Benny Tai, who made hypothetical remarks about Hong Kong independence at a forum in Taiwan.

Yam said: “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?”

Benny Tai. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

“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.”

In a joint statement this month, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, Independent Commentators Association and Journalism Educators for Press Freedom said they were worried that attacks against Tai by the local and central governments may cause a chilling effect, affecting freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Meanwhile, an annual survey published last Wednesday by the HKJA showed that the general public’s evaluation of press freedom had dropped to its lowest since the poll began in 2013. The study cited increasing pressure from the central government.

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