Beijing has expressed “strong disapproval” of a survey by Hong Kong’s foreign press club showing growing challenges for reporters under the national security law.
The Chinese foreign ministry’s office in the city warned the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) against “meddling in Hong Kong affairs.”
The survey released on Friday showed almost half of respondents were considering or had already made plans to leave the city due to concerns for press freedoms. Some 84 per cent said the national security law imposed by Beijing on June 30 last year had worsened the working environment for journalists.
The findings, which were compiled from responses from 99 members, also highlighted concerns over a looming “fake news” law and over self-censorship under the security law. The majority of respondents work for foreign media organisations.
In response, the office accused the club of “walking away from professional ethics.”
“Its misleading report, based on just a few responses, is neither representative nor credible. Its smearing of Hong Kong’s press freedom and playing-up of the chilling effect are interference in Hong Kong affairs,” its statement said.
The ministry’s office said the rights of reporters had not been affected in the slightest by the security law. “The right of media professionals in Hong Kong to report in accordance with law has not been affected at all,” it said.
The office warned the club to “refrain from interfering with the law-based governance of the HKSAR government and Hong Kong’s rule of law in the name of press freedom.”
“We urge the FCC to distinguish right from wrong, respect the rule of law in the HKSAR, and stop driving a wedge in Hong Kong and meddling in Hong Kong affairs under whatever pretext,” it added.
‘No absolute press freedom’
The office said press freedom was not absolute in any country.
“[T]here is no absolute press freedom anywhere in the world that could be above law. It is an international common practice that countries supervise in accordance with law the media activities in their countries. Hong Kong is no exception,” it said.
The FCC declined to comment on the statement.
The office earlier this year accused the FCC of being an “external force” interfering with China’s “internal affairs” after the club raised concerns about the conviction of a Hong Kong journalist for accessing public vehicle licensing records.
The city’s press union, foreign governments and international rights groups have all sounded the alarm over shrinking press freedoms in the city, after its largest pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to close following a national security crackdown. Police raided the paper, its assets were frozen and its leadership arrested and charged under the law.
At least one veteran journalist has fled the city, citing safety concerns amid what he called a “White Terror” under the national security law. A former bureaucrat now sits at the helm of public broadcaster RTHK, which has been instructed to use terminology on Taiwan approved by Beijing.