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Media groups protest China’s growing intrusion on press freedoms in Hong Kong and Taiwan

Media groups protest China’s growing intrusion on press freedoms in Hong Kong and Taiwan

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Facing ongoing concerns that pressure from a bolder and more influential Beijing is eroding press freedoms, thousands of people took to the streets in Hong Kong on 23 February to protest growing censorship and a lack of editorial autonomy.

By Jessica White

(Photo© Alex Leung / CC license)

**UPDATE: 26/02/2014 - In the morning of Wednesday 26 February, Kevin Lau Chun-to, the ousted editor-in-chief of Ming Pao, was stabbed three times in an attack by unknown assailants. He remains in a critical condition in a local hospital. Police currently have no suspects but are due to review security footage from the neigbourhood where the attack took place in an attempt to identify the attackers. The motive remains unclear. 

Speaking at the rally, Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) Chairperson, Ms Sham Yee-lan said that silencing of the city’s press is increasingly rampant: “The trend is very clear, somebody wants to control the media, to punish disobedient journalists.” 

Rallying to protest recent developments, demonstrators condemned this month’s firing of government critic Li Wei-ling from Commercial Radio without warning or explanation. Condemned as a political move, in a press conference Li said that Commercial Radio had given in to pressure from local officials fearing they wouldn’t renew the station’s broadcasting license. Protesters also highlighted last month’s firing of Ming Pao newspaper editor Kevin Lau Chun-to, who had published aggressive reporting on official corruption and human-rights abuses.

These fears emerge in light of recent reports indicating that China has tightened restrictions on reporters in 2013. In its annual index for 2014, Reporters Without Borders said Beijing’s growing economic weight has extended its influence over the media in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

A recent report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) further reviews a series of developments in Hong Kong and Taiwan that suggest efforts to influence media coverage in China’s favour. The developments include violent threats against employees of Apple Daily newspaper and lower advertising revenues for newspapers in Taiwan.

Earlier in February, the denial of visas to select Taiwanese journalists covering landmark bilateral talks between China and Taiwan sparked fresh rebukes from media groups and international media associations over what they described as “an attack on journalists.” 

Taipei-based reporters from Apple Daily and Radio Free Asia, a broadcasting service that receives US government financing, were excluded from joining the delegation of journalists to China from 11 to 14 February. 

As both countries edged their way towards expanding cross-strait dialogue beyond economic and trade issues in their first talks since 1949, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement that it would discuss issues related to equal exchanges of news information “so as to facilitate improvement of the overall environment for cross-strait news information, as well as continue to provide conveniences for stationed reporters.” But even as the two sides spoke of closer ties, this case reveals how pressures on the press heavily constrain relations.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ), as well as the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong, condemned the visa denials. ATJ considered China’s decision to “trample on press freedoms” by refusing to issue visas particularly serious, especially given one of the items on the agenda was a possible agreement on news media cooperation to protect the rights of reporters covering news on either side. They further called on the governments of Taiwan and China to sign an “Agreement to Ensure News Freedom” and to immediately refrain from using visas or permits as “instruments of censorship.”

Such trends deepen concerns about the ability of international press and more vocal Chinese-language media outlets to cover news without government interference and self-censorship. With the mainstream media increasingly compromised, CPJ’s report notes that journalists in Hong Kong and Taiwan are pinning hope on the development of independent online news outlets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as expression on the Internet is less compromised by government censors.


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2014-02-25 18:30

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...