Hong Kong was ranked 73rd out of 179 countries in this year’s Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, with the report’s authors citing Beijing’s “baleful influence” as having a restrictive effect on local media.
Mainland China, meanwhile, was one of the worst-ranked countries in the world, beating only Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan for a ranking of 177. Taiwan, on the other hand, fared relatively well, coming in at 42, beating even the United States, which came in 48th.
Hong Kong’s ranking placed it just behind Mongolia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Tunisia, and just ahead of Northern Cyprus, Kosovo, and Togo.
Explaining this year’s ranking for Hong Kong, RSF pointed to last year’s expulsion of Financial Times Asia editor Victor Mallet. Authorities refused to renew Mallet’s visa after he hosted a talk by a pro-independence activist at the Foreign Correspondents Club, of which he was then vice president.
What’s more, the report notes, “More than half of Hong Kong’s media owners, most of whom have major business interests in mainland China, are also members of political bodies on the mainland such as the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.”
Though Hong Kong’s ranking remains unchanged from last year, it has fallen precipitously since its return to China. The SAR’s press was ranked 18th-freest in the world in RSF’s 2002 index.
In a report entitled China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order, released last month, RSF accused the rising power of exporting its tightly controlled media model to other countries, much to the detriment of press freedoms there.
RSF also accused Hong Kong’s Communications Authority of pressuring local outlets “in various ways, including threatening not to renew their licences.”
RSF is not the only international organization to express concern over the state of freedoms in Hong Kong. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have released reports this year warning of a deterioration of civil liberties in the SAR.
Meanwhile, local attitudes towards Hong Kong media have also soured.
A survey by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, released on Tuesday, found that faith in the press among Hongkongers had fallen to a record low, with a score of 45 on a 100-point scale.
The same survey found that a fifth of local journalists said they had been pressured by their superiors to dial back their coverage of Hong Kong’s independence movement.
“In the past, we used the metaphor of a boiling frog, but now it’s a bit different. Now, journalists and the public know that the water is getting hotter… but the government thinks the water is still fine,” HKJA Chairperson Chris Yeung was quoted as saying by HKFP. “There is a big gap in understanding.”