Freedom of the Press
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Hong Kong *
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Although freedom of expression is provided for under the law and Hong Kong media remain lively, press freedom has been threatened in recent years by an increase in self-censorship. Under Article 27 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong residents enjoy freedoms of speech, press, and publication. Nevertheless, these rights risk being undermined owing to the power of the Chinese National People’s Congress to make the final interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, Chinese surveillance in the territory, economic interests of media owners in the Chinese market, and the chilling effect of the 2005 sentencing of Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong to a five-year prison term in China on charges of spying for Taiwan. In a series of cases that raised concerns over selective application of the Broadcasting Ordinance, several individuals were summoned to court during the year in relation to broadcasts of the prodemocracy pirate radio station Citizens’ Radio. Among those charged with “using unlicensed equipment when delivering a political message” was activist Szeto Wah, who had participated as a guest speaker in a May 2007 program on the 1989 crackdown on the prodemocracy movement in Beijing. The station, which has been broadcasting intermittently since 2005, had its license application rejected in December 2006. The cases were pending at year’s end.
Outright attacks on the press did not occur in 2007 as they did in March 2006, when four men armed with hammers broke into the office of the Epoch Times, a newspaper known for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party and reporting on China’s persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual group. Despite the absence of violence, many journalists practice self-censorship. A survey conducted by the Hong Kong University Public Opinion Program found that close to half of respondents believed that news media practiced self-censorship, and nearly 30 percent of journalists in the survey admitted to doing so. Another January 2007 survey by the Hong Kong Journalists Association found that 58 percent of local journalists thought press freedom in Hong Kong had deteriorated since the end of British rule in 1997. The most common types of self-censorship were reportedly downplaying negative news about the central government in Beijing, downplaying information on issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese Communist Party, and downplaying information that would be detrimental to media owners or their interests. International media organizations operate freely in Hong Kong, and foreign reporters do not need government-issued identification.
Despite self-censorship, media remain outspoken and political debate is vigorous in the extremely diverse and partisan press. Hong Kong has 49 daily newspapers (including 23 in Chinese and 13 in English); 4 of them are funded by pro-Beijing interests and follow the Chinese Communist Party’s lead on political and social issues. Controversy continued during the year over the future of the government-owned Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) after a review panel recommended that a new public broadcaster be established but did not comment on RTHK’s future. The findings were widely interpreted as a threat to media freedom and the continued existence of RTHK, and particular criticism was leveled at the absence of public broadcasting experts on the review panel. In the past, RTHK has come under pressure for not defending or promoting government policies, for criticizing Beijing, and for its coverage of Taiwan. There are no restrictions on internet access. Hong Kong has the highest internet usage rate in Asia, with broadband service available in 74 percent of households.