Hong Kong’s press freedom index has sunk to a new low for the third consecutive year, with reporters questioning the media’s effectiveness as a watchdog amid an increasingly challenging environment for the industry.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) published the index on Friday. The annual index comprised of two sets of figures based on two surveys – one questionnaire was given to those working in the media field, and the other was given to members of the public.

media journalism press freedom
File photo: StudioIncendo.

The press freedom ranking representing media workers’ views stood at 26.2 this year, down from 32.1 last year. The decline is the steepest drop since the HKJA began compiling the index in 2013.

In a statement, the HKJA said it believed that the environment for news reporting in Hong Kong had “drastically deteriorated over the past year.” The group cited the closure of Apple Daily last June as well as Stand News, which closed last December, and Citizen News this January. Executives and editors at Apple Daily and Stand News are currently facing prosecution under the national security legislation or the colonial-era sedition law after their newsrooms were raided.

“As a direct consequence of a shrinking news industry, less information of public interest is now available, and those that remain accessible become more homogenous than diverse,” the statement read.

The HKJA surveyed 169 people in the media industry and 1,016 members of the public in May. The group added it was noteworthy that 737 questionnaires were sent out, making for a response rate of 22.9 per cent. In contrast, the response rate last year was 82.8 per cent.

"Some journalists we approached for the survey said they fear the HKJA has come in the crosshairs of authorities and therefore they fear retribution for filling out a questionnaire conducted by the HKJA," the group wrote.

State-backed media outlets have lashed out at HKJA, calling them a "fake union" that had "caused chaos in Hong Kong."

The survey also found that 97 per cent of media workers believed that the press freedom environment had gotten "much worse" in the past year, while 53.5 per cent of the public indicated the same sentiment.

Apple Daily last edition June 23, 2021 Mong Kok
The last edition of Apple Daily. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The HKJA added that the ability of the press to operate in a "free and safe environment" would be "crucial" to maintaining Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre.

'Right Hong Kong message'

The index's release comes a day after Chief Executive John Lee spoke at an event for media workers celebrating China's upcoming National Day, in which he told selected journalists to deliver the "right Hong Kong message" to the world.

HKFP was denied access to the invite-only event. After initially citing Covid-19 regulations and incorrectly claiming the event was for Chinese-only outlets, an organising committee staffer eventually claimed that only "mainstream media outlets" were invited, without explaining further. State-run outlets and the SCMP attended the event.

John Lee celebration national day media sector (Copy)
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.

During his speech, Lee warned reporters to distinguish right from wrong and keep their distance from “fake media” and “bad elements” that “destroy press freedom.”

Authorities have said that they are looking into enacting a "fake news" law to combat misinformation. Critics say such legislation could be weaponised to crack down on news outlets and further stifle press freedom.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.