Beijing has dealt a severe blow to the freedom of the press in Hong Kong with its law on the security, to the point that self-censorship is the threat some of the local media, and that foreign securities may reduce their presence.
For decades, the territory of the banks of the south China sea was a haven for the media, which could rely on its business-friendly environment and on a very good connection with the rest of Asia and the world.
Especially, the work of journalists was founded on the freedoms of vast inherited from the british Crown, and guaranteed after 1997 by the retrocession agreement, the polar opposite of the censorship and restrictions prevailing in mainland China.
The AFP, the New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times are part of the foreign media who have their regional headquarters in the city.
All wonder now about the impact of the very controversial law on the security that Beijing has imposed in its semi-autonomous region in response to the political crisis of 2019, and to months of demonstrations against the interference of Beijing.
“It is a blow, the end of freedom of the press as we know it in Hong Kong,” said to the AFP Yuen Chan, a former journalist who worked in the city and now gives courses at the City University of Hong Kong.
“The weapon of visas”
An Illustration of this situation, the New York Times announced on Wednesday its decision to move in 2021 at Seoul digital services, one-third of its workforce in hong kong, citing the “uncertainties” generated by the new act.
The title has explained to, in addition, have recently encountered difficulties in obtaining work permits” for its staff, which was until now “current, China (mainland), but rarely the case in the ex-colony” of the uk.
His journalist Chris Buckley, expelled from China a few months ago, has not obtained a visa to work in Hong Kong.
“It seems that they are beginning to consider using the weapon of visas to punish the people they don’t like”, said to AFP Keith Richberg, director of the Centre for journalism and media studies from the University of Hong Kong.
This new text provides in particular that the authorities “take measures to strengthen the management” of the international news agencies.
A clause that makes us fear that “Hong Kong is moving towards the requirements for press accreditation to the chinese,” according to Sharron Fast, the Hong Kong University.
The act also gives the police in hong kong and the chinese security services powers of surveillance over wide, which may complicate the protection of sources for journalists.
“It is a way of giving carte blanche to the interception of communications and surveillance online,” says Ms. Fast.
The essence of the law is formulated in a vague manner, so that the journalists would be concerned about a risk of putting themselves outside of the law unintentionally, simply for having covered speech or demonstrations deemed hostile to the national security.
In 2018, the reporter for the Financial Times Victor Mallet was denied a new work visa soon after animated, in an important press club, meeting with an independence activist.
Declining advertising revenue
Last week, journalists asked the head of the local executive, Carrie Lam, if she could “guarantee 100%” freedom of the press.
She replied that she could do it if journalists “ensure that they do not commit any infringement of this law”.
This may be local media who are most at risk, especially as the securities criticizing Beijing have long been those who suffer the most from the erosion of advertising revenues.
“The problem of self-censorship, which is already, will get worse,” said Chris Yeung, the Association of journalists of Hong Kong.
“It is likely that the mechanisms and systems of control of the media existing on the continent appear gradually,” he predicts.
The authorities have recently launched an audit of the chain RTHK, which is funded by public funds but independent, after she had been charged to take up the cause of the protesters.
After the adoption of the law on the security, two editors have resigned from the Apple Daily, the newspaper with the largest openly pro-democracy Hong Kong property magnate Jimmy Lai.
“It is difficult to protect journalists, î he told recently. “All I can do is tell them to be aware of. I can’t ask them to be martyrs.”