Hong Kong’s sole chief executive candidate John Lee has said that press freedom exists in the city, so there is no need to ask him to “defend” it.

John Lee
John Lee. File photo: John Lee campaign.

“Freedom of the press always exists in Hong Kong. I think there’s no need to use the word ‘defend’ because it exists and we attach great importance to press freedom. But press freedom needs to fulfil the requirements of the law. Hong Kong is a place with rule of law, any action or activities must be lawful,” Lee said, when asked by a reporter on Sunday if he would protect press freedom.

When asked about meeting the Hong Kong Journalists Association, he rejected the idea citing an ongoing investigation.

The Registry of Trade Unions has demanded that the watchdog provide financial information and explain some of its social media posts.

Explainer: The decline of Hong Kong’s press freedom under the national security law

The ex-chief secretary, who has yet to publish a manifesto ahead of the May 8 leadership selection process, said on Sunday that he would give focus to “results-oriented” policy to boost the city’s competitiveness.

Press freedom fears

Since the onset of the security law in 2020, two newsrooms have been raided and their top editors arrested, as press freedom NGOs sound the alarm. Apple Daily, Stand News and Citizen News are among the outlets that have shuttered.

A poll this month found that Hongkongers’ satisfaction with press freedom and media outlets in the city had dropped to a record low.

beer bay news stand central pier
A newspaper stand at Central Pier. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP

A “fake news” law, regulation of crowdfunding and legislation of the local Article 23 security law are all expected when-and-if Lee takes the helm.

Earlier this month, his campaign team attempted to bar Hong Kong Free Press and other independent media from an online press conference, claiming it was for “mainstream media” only.

The 64-year-old is the sole hopeful in the small-circle election set to take place in 13 days. The 1,462 Election Committee members he vetted last year are expected to select him for the top job.

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