Protests in Hong Kong have taken over the city-state for the past few months, escalating in violence and compromising journalists’ safety.
Conflict between the press and the police in Hong Kong has consistently increased throughout the protests. In total, four people have died as a result of the protests and 1,235 people have been injured.
Clashes break out in Tsim Sha Tsui as protesters attempt to break the police siege of PolyU.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) November 18, 2019
Freelance photojournalist Joey Kwok, who works for Stand News, was arrested for “obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty” while he was photographing one of the protests. Kwok was released on November 4 without charges. The second journalist was a student at Hong Kong Baptist University, working for the Hong Kong Free Press. Nelson Tang was released on bail on the same day as Kwok after police claimed he was “acting in a disorderly manner in public.”
The police in Hong Kong have also shown little regard for the safety of journalists covering the outbreaks of protests. On October 8, Hong Kong passed a law prohibiting face-covering masks, resulting in widespread criticism. The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau has urged Hong Kong’s authorities to ensure that reporters are formally exempt from the ban and are free to protect themselves by maintaining anonymity.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and a coalition of NGOs and other media groups expressed concern that Hong Kong wants to form a centralized identification system that would add pressure and surveillance to reporters covering the protests. Meanwhile, the police injured a journalist on August 5 and another two on November 16.
“A centralized identification system would not improve the security of journalists in Hong Kong, but could instead be diverted for surveillance and pressure,” warned Cédric Alviani, head of the RSF East Asia bureau.
The excessive use of pepper spray, tear gas and projectiles fired from crowd control weapons have pushed the Committee to Protect Journalists to publish a safety advisory for journalists in Hong Kong. The recent intensity of violence from the police has prompted some protesters to retaliate with other violence. When police react to that, they do not necessarily distinguish reporters from the crowds of protesters.
.@RSF_inter demands #HongKong police to stop attacking journalists and respect their work reporting on current demonstrations. https://t.co/ky3bjaRlpt#ExtraditionBill #freepress #ProtectJournalist @SCMPNews @fcchk @joshuawongcf @ClaudiaMCMo @lamkinseng @HKJA_Official @HongKongFP
— RSF East Asia (@RSF_eastasia) June 13, 2019
Courts in Hong Kong have recognized the importance of press freedom and have dismissed a ban granted by police for publishing officers’ personal details. Police tried to combat doxing from the ongoing anti-government protest but courts decided against allowing the limited press report on police officers. South China Morning Post quoted Justice Russell Coleman, a member of the High Court who ruled in favor of the press.
“Lawful reporting and freedom of the press are important to Hong Kong,” Coleman said before urging the media to uphold their journalistic standards.
Hong Kong Free Press founder Tom Grundy spoke to Al Jazeera about the issues surrounding reporting in Hong Kong:
“The big problem when it comes to truth and accuracy is, [news outlets] tend to be either outright owned by China or they’re run by tycoons with business interests in the mainland. Almost everybody it seems is touched by, if not outright censorship, but self-censorship. And that’s the cancerous thing that has been spreading in Hong Kong for some years.”
Grundy also believes press freedom has eroded since 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule from Britain. Slowly, more and more media outlets are conforming to the Chinese government. Journalists like Tom Grundy are still fighting to maintain Hong Kong’s independently-owned press while also making sure the most accurate news is being broadcasted and is accessible by everyone.
The Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking for Hong Kong dropped from 18th place in 2002 to 73rd place this year.