HK journalists worry about freedom of expression


HONG KONG, AP

Hong Kong journalists expressed concern on Sunday over press freedom in the territory, saying that government officials appeared to be encouraging the local media to avoid upsetting Beijing over sensitive issues.

Official condemnation of the Falun Gong movement, and decreasing coverage of Taiwan issues were cited by the Hong Kong Journalists Association as factors that indicated a move toward self-censorship.

Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa has publicly branded the spiritual group Falun Gong — outlawed in mainland China but legal in Hong Kong — a “cult,” raising concerns among some residents that other religious and political groups may also be targeted for government control.

Other top local officials have also pledged to monitor Falun Gong activities and to study anti-cult laws in other countries.

The Journalists Association said in a statement that it was not clear whether the government’s actions were a step toward outlawing the group or only an attempt to please Beijing.

“What is plain, however, is the shrill rhetoric threatens open debate by encouraging self censorship,” it said.

The statement was issued to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the territory’s return to China from British colonial rule.

For example, Taiwan news is now given less coverage in Hong Kong media than before, noted the association’s chairwoman Mak Yin-ting.

“We think the reporting on Taiwan issues has been unproportional given the geographical closeness” between the island and Hong Kong, said Mak.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a part of its territory and has not ruled out force to reclaim the island.

The association also noted an increase willingness in the Hong Kong media to devote a large amount of coverage on issues that are seen as priority to the mainland Chinese government. Coverage on the commercial push into the mainland’s economically less developed Western region, for example, was treated with little critical treatment, Mak said.

Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, has been guaranteed a high degree of autonomy by Beijing.

In response, the Hong Kong government said the association’s “allegation that human rights and press freedoms in Hong Kong are being eroded is groundless.”

A statement said the media in Hong Kong have maintained their vigilance in “commenting on current affairs and in holding the government accountable.”