Air travellers trying to access the Hong Kong Free Press website using the airport’s public ASUS internet terminals have encountered an “access denied” message warning that the site contains content “harmful to a young public.”

A Reddit user found that the newspaper – which is officially recognised by the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration – prompted internet filtering software to interrupt readers with an “access denied” warning.

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The site appears to be navigable if the warning is closed, and remains accessible at non-ASUS kiosks and over airport WiFi.

A spokesperson for ASUS told HKFP that the firm uses third-party filtering software as part of their contractual requirements with the airport: “We noticed a dialogue box appears when users [try] to access your website from the airport portal, a standard setting that is managed by the software provider. Therefore, we have contacted the related third-party software provider to clarify this situation.”

The Airport Authority (AA), which is a statutory body, said that the HKFP website does not generate any warnings at the 20 terminals which they operate.

However, 16 of its public internet kiosks are managed by ASUS: “The AA is now working with the service provider to rectify their computer setting,” a spokesperson told HKFP.

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“The AA does not specifically require which software to use, and never requests our service provider to block any specific websites,” it added.

The airport has been the scene of mass protests in recent months, as demonstrations sparked by an extradition law grip the city. It is unclear if the internet controls are related to the HKFP’s coverage of the protests.

ASUS did not respond to HKFP’s enquiries as to why the news site was being targetted and which filtering software was being used.

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File photo: Hong Kong Free Press.

One Reddit commenter said the incident could lead to other venues adopting censorship: “This is truly how it starts. The beginning of the end. The internet is amongst the greatest inventions the world has ever seen, the internet allows for free speech, openness of opinion, openness of ideas, mass communication, etc. This is amidst the biggest things I have worry about – internet censorship in HK.”

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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.