Chief Executive John Lee told “patriotic” journalists to “deliver Hong Kong’s latest developments and correct message” to the world when he attended a media sector celebration ahead of China’s upcoming National Day.

The event, attended by Lee and other Hong Kong top government officials including financial chief Paul Chan and Chief Secretary Eric Chan, was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wan Chai on Thursday.

Chief Executive John Lee speaking at a reception by the “Hong Kong media” on September 22, 2022, in celebration of the national day. Photo: GovHK.

Addressing attendees in Mandarin, the chief executive said more “good Hong Kong stories” should be told, and “told well.”

“Every journalist sitting here loves the motherland and Hong Kong, and hopes to push for societal progression and the improvement of people’s lives through objective and fair reporting and commentary,” said Lee.

The chief executive warned reporters to distinguish right from wrong and keep their distance from “fake media” and “bad elements” that “destroy press freedom.”

Lee said freedom of speech and press freedom were “adequately protected” by the Basic Law, and Hong Kong was a city with the rule of law.

“Journalists’ responsibility is to report the truth in the spirit of maintaining objectivity, fairness, and impartiality,” the chief executive said.

“However, journalists are also Hong Kong residents, and everyone is equal before Hong Kong’s law. No one has privilege, and therefore everyone has to fulfil their civic duty in accordance with the law.”

Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Hong Kong’s press freedom came under the international spotlight following the 2019 extradition bill protests and Beijing’s implementation of a national security law the following year. The city ranked 148th in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index this year, plummeting from last year’s ranking of 68th.

Pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily and online media outlet Stand News and their former staff are currently facing prosecution under the security legislation or a colonial-era sedition law.

The sweeping security law, enacted in June 2020, criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

‘Mainstream media only’

The invite-only event was said to have been organised by the “Hong Kong media.” According to Beijing-controlled outlet Ta Kung Pao, the organisers included the head of the government’s Information Services Department Fletch Chan, and Jiang Zaizhong, chairperson of the Hong Kong Federation of Journalists.

HKFP blocked from entering the venue for the celebration of the national day held by the “Hong Kong media sector.” Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

When HKFP called an employee of the organising committee secretariat, a Ms Lam, on Thursday morning to enquire about attending, she initially said that only Chinese media outlets were invited but then revealed that the English-language South China Morning Post was also on the list. Lam also said that “state media outlets” had been invited.

In another call, Lam said HKFP could not attend the event due to Covid-19 restrictions set by the organiser, and that only “mainstream media outlets” were invited, without explaining what constituted mainstream outlets.

The press area opposite the main entrance of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wan Chai. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

After arriving at the venue, a HKFP reporter was told to stay in a press area opposite the main entrance of the hotel, meaning it was not possible to approach officials or guests. Last year, Citizen News and Stand News, both of which have now closed, were barred from the event.

HKFP reached out to the Information Services Department for comment but was referred back to the event organiser by the department.

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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.