Hong Kong has fallen three places in the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom ranking released on Thursday. The Paris-based media watchdog said Beijing’s sway on media independence in the city as influential in its decision.
The city fell to 73rd place in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index after rising to 70th the year before, marking a return to its 2017 ranking. In 2009, Hong Kong was ranked at 48th place, but it is now placed below Mongolia, Ivory Coast and Tunisia. The full list covers 180 territories.
“Beijing’s baleful influence has led to a decline in press freedom in Hong Kong, which is supposed to enjoy separate status as a special administrative region until 2047,” the report read, citing the refusal to grant journalist Victor Mallet a visa renewal after he chaired a talk by a pro-independence activist and the prevalence of Hong Kong media owners with “business interests” or political allegiances in mainland China.
‘A blurry red line’
Cédric Alviani, director of RSF’s Taipei Bureau, told HKFP that the decision was based on concerns over the rule of law in Hong Kong: “We’re concerned about the rule of law in Hong Kong and how it will affect journalists in the future, particularly with the new extradition law,” he said, referring to proposed legislative amendments that would allow the city to handle extradition requests from jurisdictions where there are no existing agreements – notably from China and Taiwan.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has repeatedly said that press freedom has been respected since the 1997 Handover to China, and has insisted the proposed amendments to the extradition law are meant to plug a legal “loophole” to prevent the city from becoming a haven for fugitive offenders.
But Alviani said the amended law could be used against the media: “We think it will give an opportunity for Chinese authorities to seize bloggers, journalists or any defender of free expression in Hong Kong. It’s happened before in the past, with Gui Minhai,” he said, referring to a bookseller who was allegedly kidnapped in Thailand only to reappear in China “confessing” to a traffic crime.
“The rule of law is based on predictability; there would be no predictability. You cannot have the rule of law based on a blurry red line.”
The bureau director also said that, owing to the nature of ranking, countries’ positions were also influenced by the movements of others which affect the whole index.
|Ranking 2019||Country and Territory||Progression||Ranking 2018|
|38||Papua New Guinea||15||53|
|39||Trinidad and Tobago||0||39|
|63||Bosnia and Herzegovina||-1||62|
|133||United Arab Emirates||-5||128|
|145||Central African Republic||-33||112|
|154||The Democratic Republic Of The Congo||0||154|
|170||Islamic Republic of Iran||-6||164|
|171||Lao People’s Democratic Republic||-1||170|
|174||Syrian Arab Republic||3||177|
|179||Democratic People’s Republic of Korea||1||180|
However, the report also said that there was a “resistance” taking place in response to the press freedom concerns in the city: “It is being led by a handful of independent online media such as Citizen News, The Initium, Stand News, Hong Kong Free Press and inMedia. They exist thanks to participative funding and their audience is growing.”
China was downgraded by one place from 176th to 177th, above Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan. RSF said increased surveillance and the proliferation of Chinese censorship models across the world as influential in its decision.
“By relying on the massive use of new technology, President Xi Jinping has succeeded in imposing a social model in China based on control of news and information and online surveillance of its citizens,” the report read. “At the same time, he has been trying to export this oppressive model by promoting a ‘new world media order’ under China’s influence.”
In other countries, South Korea ousted Taiwan to rank the highest in press freedom in the region at 41st place; while Taiwan, Japan and Singapore did not move from last year’s ranking, at 42nd, 67th and 151st place respectively.
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