Self-proclaimed non-pro-establishment party Path of Democracy has appealed to the government to enact a fake news law and give housing subsidies to mainland Chinese freshgrads in the city. The ideas were among a broad list of suggestions for Chief Executive John Lee ahead of his policy address next month.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, the party’s convener Ronny Tong said legislation to regulate “fake news” was needed to protect society, and if “properly drafted” would not pose a threat to press freedom.
He claimed that false news relating to Covid-19 vaccines were an example of misinformation that could harm the community.
“There are a lot of people out there who would rather go out and pay something between HK$500 or HK$5,000 to secure a false [vaccine exemption] certificate in order to avoid getting vaccinated,” Tong answered in response to a question from HKFP.
“They will choose to offend the law and risk their health… than get a free vaccination from the government. Is it because of having access to false information?” he said, adding that there was online misinformation about the side effects of Covid-19 vaccinations.
Last week, police arrested at least three doctors accused of issuing thousands of fake Covid-19 jab exemptions. Under Hong Kong’s anti-epidemic laws, people are required to be vaccinated to enter premises including restaurants and bars.
Lee will hold his first policy address on October 19. The annual speech, which previews the policy agenda for the coming years, will be the leader’s first since being elected to the city’s top leadership post in an uncontested race in May.
The government has said that it is looking to pass a fake news law, although no timeline has been revealed.
Tong added that it may not be necessary to criminalise the dissemination of misinformation.
“Under [the fake news law], the government or an enforcement body can be empowered to issue a decree for the false information to be removed,” he said. “The person who publicised the information does not have to be jailed.”
Subsidies for mainland graduates
Path of Democracy’s 38-page proposal ahead of Lee’s policy address outlined a wide-ranging list of suggestions for the government to consider, with recommendations relating to attracting talent, integration with mainland China, education, the environment and more.
Angel Mak Daley, who sits on the party’s board of governors, suggested that authorities can provide a HK$5,000 monthly housing subsidy for mainland Chinese students who graduate from Hong Kong universities and want to settle down here.
“As we know, rent is expensive in Hong Kong… a HK$5,000 subsidy can reduce their burden and encourage them to stay in Hong Kong and contribute to the city’s vitality,” she said.
She said the government can conduct some form of means test to ensure that the students are in need of the funding, but that a merit-based assessment may not be necessary as “the mainland students that can come to Hong Kong universities are already among the elites.”
The subsidy program could last for six months to a year, Daley added.
Other suggestions made in the party’s proposal include offering “professional development courses” for Hong Kong teachers to be trained in the mainland; facilitating cooperation between doctors practicing traditional Chinese medicine and those practicing western medicine; and setting up “alternative direct channels” for young people to take part in local communities.
The Education Bureau could also consider introducing simplified Chinese – the written form used across the border – for teaching Chinese in schools, the party said in its proposal.
In response to a reporter’s question about whether the party was recommending that schools replace traditional Chinese, used in Hong Kong, with simplified Chinese, Tong said he believed the matter was “not so black and white.”
“If Hong Kong youth can get to learn simplified Chinese at an earlier age, it would be helpful to them if they develop their careers in the Greater Bay Area or other parts of China,” Tong said.
Last week, lawmakers from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) told reporters after handing in their policy suggestions to Lee that they hoped the administration could draw up a roadmap to normalcy amid Covid-19 and offer tax breaks or other incentives to attract talent to the city.
Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.