By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Unlike other large cities and China generally, Hong Kong reporters enjoy considerable latitude comparatively but there are indications that even this is suffering erosion. Reports are emerging from journalists and other news and civil rights NGOs that Chinese authorities are beginning to import their restrictions into the former British Colony, where formerly the national government had allowed some deference due to the long standing culture and western traditions of the “special administrative region.”
The International Federation of Journalists quotes a reporter, who for understandable reasons wished to keep their name secret, who stated the influence from Beijing “renders one speechless, and is simply raw and undisguised.”
Seranade Woo, a program director at the IFJ, reports that some journalists have received direct and indirect threats from the mainland Chinese, especially since the “Occupy” movement grew last fall. The increasing restrictions have become deeply concerning.
According to Woo, the threats or implications of punishment is taking several forms. These include telephone calls conveying threats, to softer forms including invitations for meetings with Chinese officials where the reporter is asked to refrain from reporting, minimize the wording, or instead offer coverage of rival groups to the Occupy Movement.
Additionally, the IFJ reports Chinese officials are using economic pressure to marginalize the media. Reports are that advertisers contracting with newspapers are now being pressured into removing ads, the primary source of revenue for newspapers and other media, to exact de facto economic sanctions against news media deemed to be critical of the government.
Hong Kong journalist Annie Cheung was targeted by authorities through an invitation to discuss her practices. Of this meeting she stated “”As a rule, they threaten you with everything that is important to you as a journalist, such as not receiving entry permits, or telling media enterprises that they should no longer expect to receive business partners from the mainland.”
The descent into repression of the media shows in the Press Freedom Index compiled by the NGO Reporters without Borders. In 2002 Hong Kong ranked 18th, just below the United States. In 2014 it ranked 61st, next to Mauritania and Senegal.
To some degree international reporters having desks in Hong Kong are also being pressured. Deutsche Welle reports that German journalist, Angela Köckritz, witnessed this first hand. After reporting on the Hong Kong protests as a China correspondent for the German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit,” Köckritz’s Chinese assistant, Zhang Miao, was arrested. Then Köckritz herself was threatened so severely that she left China as quickly as she could. Her assistant Zhang Miao is behind bars.
Ordinary Chinese are also subjected to stifling of speech. Censors targeted the encrypted internet protocol of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) which allow users to tunnel through the Internet to servers outside China for connection to the internet without direct observation by authorities. The Chines government recently began a campaign of a massive crackdown on VPNs, blocking the protocol nearly entirely in many respects. As a result, popular social media websites and the free international press are denied to most Chinese.
Mainland China as a whole is continuing to fall under repressive measures instigated against journalists as well as ordinary citizens. Since Xi Jinping became President of China in 2013, the situation continues to deteriorate. It is unlikely to improve in the short term and is just another example of how freedom remains fleeting in a nation having an entrenched history of mistrust of its citizens and exerting increasing authority over them.
By Darren Smith
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