Public trust in the credibility of Hong Kong’s media has fallen to its lowest level in two decades, according to a survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

Chinese University School of Journalism and Communication CUHK
The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Journalism and Communication. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Results released on Thursday showed the overall score of the city’s media outlets was 5.44, a 0.27-point drop from the last time the survey – carried out every three years – was conducted in 2019.

The university’s Centre for Communication and Public Opinion Survey interviewed 994 people between June and July and asked them to rate the credibility of different media outlets from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most credible. The categories were electronic media, paid newspapers, free newspapers and online media.

Journalism professor Clement So, who led the survey which has been carried out in its current format since 2001, said the scores in recent years have been “on the low side.”

“That means people generally don’t trust the media enough. And the media may not be able to function properly trying to report on social issues, events and monitoring the situation for the citizens. So this is not good,” So told HKFP.

press reporter journalist news camera Legco
Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

But So said the low credibility was a “world trend” and not specific to Hong Kong. He said it was difficult to determine the reasons for the decline as the survey did not explore these.

Electronic media

Government-funded RTHK, which was categorised with five other broadcasters as electronic media, suffered the biggest plunge in credibility, from 6.72 in 2019 to 5.68 this year. Its ranking slid from second to fifth.

rthk television house broadcast headquarters logo (1)
RTHK. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Now/Viu TV came first in the category with 6.29 points, a 0.47-point decrease. TVB continued to rank last in the division, but its score rose from 4.45 to 5.01 in the past three years.

So said the changes among electronic media were the most noteworthy as they used to enjoy higher credibility and the drop this year was “significant.”

“Basically you can see some changes in a number of electronic media organisations in the past few years. Change of personnel, change of programme or editorial orientation. These might be the reasons, but without concrete or empirical evidence, we cannot say definitely.”

stand news announcement june 27
Sunday’s announcement on Stand News.

Several media outlets have shut down since Beijing imposed the national security law in Hong Kong in June 2020. RTHK, whose charter guarantees its editorial independence, came under fire in May 2020 for a popular satirical show because one episode allegedly insulted police, leading to the public broadcaster eventually axing the show.

Patrick Li, a civil servant with no broadcasting experience, was appointed the new head of RTHK last year after three senior employees quit following criticism of programming from the government and pro-Beijing figures.

RTHK was tasked with airing more programmes that “nurture a stronger sense of patriotism” among viewers.

Newspapers, online media

Most of the city’s newspapers, both paid and free, recorded an increase in credibility from 2019. Their scores ranged from 4.78 to 5.97. Among them, Hong Kong Economic Times and Sing Tao Daily had the most marked climb.

The South China Morning Post ranked first, or most credible, in the paid newspaper category with 5.95 points, while The Standard topped the chart of free newspapers with 5.97 points.

Online media, such as Hong Kong Free Press, InMedia and the Initium, received scores ranging from 4.64 to 5.58. Hong Kong Free Press ranked second in the category with a score of 5.50, after InMedia with 5.58 points.

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Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.