Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

Hong Kong stumbles in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, down 25 places in 10 years

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.

Reporters Without Borders

Photo: Reporters Without Borders.

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.”

reporters without borders 2019 map press freedom

Photo: RSF. Click here to download or view in full.

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.

In Full: The Reporters Without Border Press Freedom Index 2019 - click to view.
Ranking 2019 Country and Territory Progression Ranking 2018
1 Norway 0 1
2 Finland 2 4
3 Sweden -1 2
4 Netherlands -1 3
5 Denmark 4 9
6 Switzerland -1 5
7 New Zealand 1 8
8 Jamaica -2 6
9 Belgium -2 7
10 Costa Rica 0 10
11 Estonia 1 12
12 Portugal 2 14
13 Germany 2 15
14 Iceland -1 13
15 Ireland 1 16
16 Austria -5 11
17 Luxembourg 0 17
18 Canada 0 18
19 Uruguay 1 20
20 Suriname 1 21
21 Australia -2 19
22 Samoa 0 22
23 Namibia 3 26
24 Latvia 0 24
25 Cape Verde 4 29
26 Liechtenstein 4 30
27 Ghana -4 23
28 Cyprus -3 25
29 Spain 2 31
30 Lithuania 6 36
31 South Africa -3 28
32 France 1 33
33 United Kingdom 7 40
34 Slovenia -2 32
35 Slovakia -8 27
36 Burkina Faso 5 41
37 Andorra 0 37
38 Papua New Guinea 15 53
39 Trinidad and Tobago 0 39
40 Czech Republic -6 34
41 South Korea 2 43
42 Taiwan 0 42
43 Italy 3 46
44 Botswana 4 48
45 Tonga 6 51
46 Chile -8 38
47 Romania -3 44
48 United States -3 45
49 Senegal 1 50
50 OECS -15 35
51 Guyana 4 55
52 Fiji 5 57
53 Belize -6 47
54 Madagascar 0 54
55 Dominican Republic 4 59
56 Comoros -7 49
57 Argentina -5 52
58 Mauritius -2 56
59 Poland -1 58
60 Georgia 1 61
61 Armenia 19 80
62 Haiti -2 60
63 Bosnia and Herzegovina -1 62
64 Croatia 5 69
65 Greece 9 74
66 Niger -3 63
67 Japan 0 67
68 Malawi -4 64
69 Seychelles 16 85
70 Mongolia 1 71
71 Ivory Coast 11 82
72 Tunisia 25 97
73 Hong Kong -3 70
74 Cyprus North 3 77
75 Kosovo 3 78
76 Togo 10 86
77 Malta -12 65
78 Lesotho -10 68
79 Panama 12 91
80 Bhutan 14 94
81 El Salvador -15 66
82 Albania -7 75
83 Kyrgyzstan 15 98
84 East Timor 11 95
85 Peru 3 88
86 Sierra Leone -7 79
87 Hungary -14 73
88 Israel -1 87
89 Guinea-Bissau -6 83
90 Serbia -14 76
91 Moldova -10 81
92 Gambia 30 122
93 Liberia -4 89
94 Mauritania -22 72
95 Macedonia 14 109
96 Benin -12 84
97 Ecuador -5 92
98 Maldives 22 120
99 Paraguay 8 107
100 Kenya -4 96
101 Lebanon -1 100
102 Ukraine -1 101
103 Mozambique -4 99
104 Montenegro -1 103
105 Brazil -3 102
106 Nepal 0 106
107 Guinea -3 104
108 Kuwait -3 105
109 Angola 12 121
110 Ethiopia 40 150
111 Bulgaria 0 111
112 Mali 3 115
113 Bolivia -3 110
114 Nicaragua -24 90
115 Gabon -7 108
116 Guatemala 0 116
117 Congo -3 114
118 Tanzania -25 93
119 Zambia -6 113
120 Nigeria -1 119
121 Afghanistan -3 118
122 Chad 1 123
123 Malaysia 22 145
124 Indonesia 0 124
125 Uganda -8 117
126 Sri Lanka 5 131
127 Zimbabwe -1 126
128 Qatar -3 125
129 Colombia 1 130
130 Jordan 2 132
131 Cameroon -2 129
132 Oman -5 127
133 United Arab Emirates -5 128
134 Philippines -1 133
135 Morocco 0 135
136 Thailand 4 140
137 Palestine -3 134
138 Myanmar -1 137
139 South Sudan 5 144
140 India -2 138
141 Algeria -5 136
142 Pakistan -3 139
143 Cambodia -1 142
144 Mexico 3 147
145 Central African Republic -33 112
146 Honduras -5 141
147 Swaziland 5 152
148 Venezuela -5 143
149 Russian Federation -1 148
150 Bangladesh -4 146
151 Singapore 0 151
152 Brunei Darussalam 1 153
153 Belarus 2 155
154 The Democratic Republic Of The Congo 0 154
155 Rwanda 1 156
156 Iraq 4 160
157 Turkey 0 157
158 Kazakhstan 0 158
159 Burundi 0 159
160 Uzbekistan 5 165
161 Tajikistan -12 149
162 Libya 0 162
163 Egypt -2 161
164 Somalia 4 168
165 Equatorial Guinea 6 171
166 Azerbaijan -3 163
167 Bahrain -1 166
168 Yemen -1 167
169 Cuba 3 172
170 Islamic Republic of Iran -6 164
171 Lao People’s Democratic Republic -1 170
172 Saudi Arabia -3 169
173 Djibouti 0 173
174 Syrian Arab Republic 3 177
175 Sudan -1 174
176 Vietnam -1 175
177 China -1 176
178 Eritrea 1 179
179 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 1 180
180 Turkmenistan -2 178

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.”

‘Oppressive model’

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.”

Cédric Alviani

Cédric Alviani. Photo: RSF.

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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Hong Kong stumbles in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, down 25 places in 10 years