|Hong Kong leader denies press freedom faces “extinction”
Press freedom does not face “extinction” in Hong Kong, leader Carrie Lam has said this week.
Speaking on Tuesday (4 January 2022) in the wake of the closure of two independent online media outlets in the space of a week, Lam appeared to refute allegations published in the Financial Times (FT) earlier this week that “Hong Kong’s free press is on the brink of extinction”.
The FT reported on Monday (3 January 2022) that Citizen News, an online news site founded in 2017, would cease operations on Tuesday, citing safety concerns for its reporters following the arrest of journalists from Stand News and the pro-democracy news site’s subsequent closure last week.
As reported by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) this week, Lam refuted questions from HKFP reporters that the closure of the news outlets was in any way linked to the implementation of the National Security Law and that it was evidence of a “chilling effect” on press freedom since the law’s implementation in 2020.
She said: “I cannot, on behalf of these two organizations and their responsible people, explain what they mean by a ‘chilling effect’, but I certainly would strongly refute any allegation that this is related to the implementation of the National Security Law.
“If the implementation of the National Security Law would undermine press freedom, then we would not be seeing any press freedom in the Western world. You name me which Western country does not have a national security law? They have national security legislation far more draconian than the Hong Kong National Security Law,” Lam added.
The law, introduced following widespread pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, has seen the arrest of opposition figures and those critical of the government including journalists. The Society of Editors has previously called on the UK government to do more to support a free press in Hong Kong following the arrest of free media campaigner Jimmy Lai in August 2020.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also warned that the security law is “especially dangerous” for journalists and has previously cited the positive work of outlets such as Stand News and Citizen News in putting up a “resistance” to “a full-blown intimidation campaign by the government” aimed at the “editorial autonomy” of other outlets.
Addressing the allegations in the FT directly, Lam said that press freedom did not “face collapse” under her leadership.
She added: “I read news about, because of the closure of online media, press freedom in Hong Kong faces extinction or Hong Kong free press faces collapse. I just cannot accept that sort of allegations
“Nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong, and journalists and media organisations, like all of us, have to respect and comply with the law.”