The Hong Kong government is conducting a legal study on the problem of “fake news,” said Chief Secretary John Lee.

The chief secretary said in an interview that the administration was looking into “different tactics” to target “fake news,” including legislation and management, RTHK reported on Wednesday.

Chief Secretary John Lee in an interview with RTHK. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

“I personally think that management takes precedence,” said Lee. Such measures included asking that “false information” or “messages that were destructive to society” to be removed, the chief secretary said, adding that an opportunity to defend oneself will be given.

Another way of managing “fake news” would be asking the publisher to make a declaration in cases where the information was not verified or fact-checked, Lee said.

RTHK reported that the chief secretary said that the Hong Kong government has yet to make a decision on what tactic to adopt, and that there will be a consultation.

‘Exhausting all means’

It is not the first time a government official spoke of “tackling fake news.” In July, Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui said that “the administration will be exhausting all administrative and legal means to deal with the spread of such rumours.”

Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

Lawmakers also passed a non-binding motion in the Legislative Council that month against the spread of online disinformation. It took aim at content they said incited hatred against the government.

Ronson Chan, chairperson of Hong Kong’s largest journalist group, said at the time that such legislation would pose as an additional concern to journalists.

“There is no need to add one more weapon or sword over journalists’ heads,” Chan said, adding that there were already “powerful weapons” which authorities could use to clamp down on alleged disinformation.

Earlier this year, the police distributed leaflets to news outlets denouncing “rumours and lies,” warning them against undermining national security. However, most examples appeared to refer to viral social media posts, as opposed to reporting. Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in April that the Hong Kong government was the “biggest victim of fake news.”

In 2019, Singapore passed a “fake news” law in spite of fierce criticism.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.