The public perception of the independence and credibility of Hong Kong’s news media has dropped to a record low, according to the findings of an opinion poll, with more and more people sensing a reluctance to criticise the authorities.

The Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, in a survey released on Wednesday, said overall satisfaction with news media in general – including radio, television, newspapers and the internet – was at the lowest level since records began in 1993, dropping 18 per cent from March last year.

Reporters raise questions during a government press conference on September 15, 2020. File photo: GovHK.

“People’s satisfaction with the performance of news media in general continues to plunge,” the institute said in a statement.

The survey recorded an average credibility rating of 5.08, the lowest since records began in 1997 for this particular metric. But dissatisfaction with the state of press freedom in Hong Kong decreased compared with six months ago.

Forty-eight per cent of participants said they were dissatisfied with the state of press freedom in the city while 41 per cent described local news media as “irresponsible” in their reporting.

The poll also found that the percentage of respondents who used the television or newspapers as their main sources of news was at an all-time low, while the internet was the main source of news for 70 per cent.

The pollster surveyed 1,010 Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong adults reached via random telephone calls at the end of March.

Self-censorship

The poll found a significant increase in the perception that local media are reluctant to criticise the Hong Kong government, a figure which leapt 20 points compared to March 2020 to 58 per cent – an all-time high.

Sixty-six per cent of participants believed local media had reservations criticising the central government in Beijing while 53 per cent believed it had practised self-censorship.

File photo: Studio Incendo.

The increasing belief that media are reluctant to criticise local authorities comes amid official moves to curb what is seen as disinformation. In February, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced proposals for regulations against “fake news.”

There are concerns over the erosion of Hong Kong’s press freedom after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city last June, following months of pro-democracy protests and civil unrest in 2019.

Last month, public broadcaster RTHK axed nine episodes of various programmes and introduced an editorial screening mechanism after a new Director of Broadcasting with no former journalistic experience took the helm. The director also attempted to withdraw RTHK entries from press awards.

In its annual human rights report released on Wednesday, rights group Amnesty International Hong Kong said the city’s press freedom and and independent media institutions are “increasingly under threat” and subject to “unprecedented” pressure.

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