Fears For Press Freedoms

An organization representing the media says Chinese rule is eroding freedom of expression in Hong Kong.

hknewspaper-305.jpg An elderly man reads a newspaper in a workshop in Hong Kong, June 26, 2011.

Freedom of expression in Hong Kong, once home to a freewheeling and independent media, has deteriorated in the past year, a journalists' group has said.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association said the year ending June 2011 had been a bad one for press freedom in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under an agreement aimed at protecting existing freedoms.

"The one-country element is increasingly overriding two systems in the way that Hong Kong is governed," the HKJA said in a statement, referring to the "One Country, Two Systems" concept which underpinned the change of sovereignty.

"This manifests itself most notably in Beijing taking a more aggressive role in its policy towards the Special Administrative Region," the group said as it launched a report titled "Two Systems
Compromised: Free Expression Under Threat in Hong Kong."

The group also highlighted concerns about broader freedoms, calling for "a review of the government's policy and attitude towards dissent, including policing, arrests, and harassment of protesters, as well as the admission of dissidents to Hong Kong."

Independent Chinese Pen Center member and Hong Kong-based magazine editor Cai Yongmei said the HKJA was commenting on more than just media freedom in the report.

"The HKJA statement calls for a fairly broad definition of freedom, not just purely freedom of expression but also other expressions of freedom, like the freedom of artistic performance, press freedom and even ... the freedom to take to the streets in protest," Cai said.

Freedom of Information Act

Cai said she hoped the government would heed the group's call for a Freedom of Information Act.

"A lot of things are now getting leaked out by the government or announced in press conferences," she said. "However, if you request information from the government, you won't necessarily get it."

"I think we need a fixed government policy so that we know things are being done behind our backs and to protect our right to see government documents," Cai said.

The HKJA called on the government to enact, "as a matter of urgency", freedom of information legislation to ensure access to government information and documents.

"The government should adopt the principle of maximum disclosure of such information, and should make it a rule to release information on new government policies at full press conferences," it said.

Xie Jiaye, head of the California-based America-China Association for Science & Technology Exchange, said China's ruling Communist Party's preoccupation with social control didn't necessarily suit Hong Kong.

"We can see that social harmony ... takes precedence over everything," Xie said. "But the one-country, two-systems measure [shows] that there are big differences between the two political systems."

"Hong Kong people have enjoyed many political rights now for a long time, so while it's understandable that the government wants stability, so political reforms should really be a question of how, not whether," he added.

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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