World newspaper association head urges 'firm action' against falling Hong Kong press freedom

By Rebecca Unsworth, April 25, 2014

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The president of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers announced Thursday that he is concerned over the declining freedom of press in Hong Kong.

Tomas Brunegård's comments came after Hong Kong slipped to 61st place in Paris-based Reporters Without Borders rankings in February- much lower than its 18th position in 2002 when the listings were first conducted- and a series of attacks on members of Hong Kong media, including the high profile February stabbing of former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lao. On Wednesday, a press freedom study was also released revealing that city journalists believe self-censorship and interfering owners are common within the industry.

Brunegard told the WAN-IFRA’s annual Publish Asia conference that “the sole purpose of doing conferences like this... is to secure and advocate for independent press globally. Journalists have become targets and in mainland China, journalists remain imprisoned. And we are concerned about press freedom in Hong Kong". He added, "we have noted indexes showing a sharp drop in Hong Kong media freedom and we see this as an escalating problem.”

Brunegard said he was concerned by the attack on Lao and the way in which authorities handled the incident, calling on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to “take firm action to safeguard press freedom”.

Leung took to the stage after Brunegard, praising mainland authorities’ assistance in “quickly apprehending [Lau’s] assailants and turning them over to Hong Kong police". Leung also labelled Hong Kong's press freedom one of the “strengths" of the city, citing it as a top priority of the government “not just because it is a core freedom and a constitutional duty but because it is a cornerstone of a free society. It is a work of love". However, Leung failed to answer what measures would be taken to safeguard the city's falling media freedom.

In yesterday's press freedom study, journalists rated pressure from management at 6.5 on a scale of 1-10, indicating it was common, while public perception rated it 6.2. Out of 100, the public gave press freedom a "slightly negative" overall rating of 49.4, while journalists rated it at 42- a “definite negative”.

Brunegård said: "the first step is to acknowledge that press freedom is important, and that is what the chief executive said today. But what is more important is how the government acts to maintain media freedom. It’s not enough that it is in the constitution.” Brunegard also acknowledged Hong Kong's special position of "one country, two systems", and the city's potential to influence press freedom in China.

[Image via Flickr]

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