Freedom of the Press - Hong Kong [China] (2007)

Status: Free
Legal Environment: 11 (of 30)
Political Environment: 11 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 8 (of 30)
Total Score: 30 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Although freedom of expression is provided for under the law, press freedom continued to deteriorate in 2006 owing to legislative pressures and a perceived increase in self-censorship in the mass media. In March, the government introduced new regulations for covert surveillance in Hong Kong that would make it a criminal offense to trespass on private premises with the intention of obtaining personal information of individuals or to employ any sense-enhancing or recording devices in order to do so. The Hong Kong Journalists Association warned that these regulations could turn journalists into criminals and damage Hong Kong's reputation of a free press.

Outright attacks on the press are rare. In March, however, 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 outlawed Falun Gong movement. The intruders damaged computer and printing equipment but left without attacking the staff. In November, local journalists came under increased pressure to self-censor their reports from China after a Chinese court upheld a five-year jail term given to Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong on charges of spying for Taiwan. Ching, the chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, was arrested in April 2005 during a visit to China's Guangdong province and charged with taking payoffs in exchange for gathering information for Taiwan. The Hong Kong government said it was concerned about the case but could not comment on the judgment handed down by the Beijing court under the "one country, two systems" policy that outlines China's relationship with Hong Kong. A survey conducted among local journalists found that about 58 percent think that press freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated since the end of British rule in 1997 and that self-censorship is more prevalent now. About a third of the interviewed journalists also admitted to self-censorship in their work.

Despite widespread self-censorship, media remain outspoken, and political debate can be 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. International media organizations operate freely in Hong Kong, and foreign reporters do not need government-issued identification to operate. In April, a government review of the public service broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) prompted fears that RTHK could be turned into a government propaganda channel. The review highlighted RTHK's poor financial controls, management problems, and failure to comply with government rules and procedures. In the past, RTHK has come under pressure on several occasions for not defending or promoting government policies and for its coverage of Taiwan. The internet in Hong Kong remains free of censorship and is used by about 68 percent of the population, which represents a slight increase compared with 2005.

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