| 24 February 2024, Saturday |

Hong Kong plunges to 148th in world press freedom rankings

Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom in Asia, has plummeted to 148th place in Reporters Without Borders’ annual index on press freedom, a drop of nearly 70 places in a single year.

The sharp descent is the result of new national security legislation imposed in 2020 and the revival of colonial-era anti-sedition laws dating back to the 1930s, the press freedom group said.

Since 2020, no less than three media outlets were forced to close by national security investigations or shut their doors voluntarily citing legal risks according to the media watchdog, while a dozen journalists and media executives have also been detained under the new legislation.

The former British colony ranked 18th place in 2002, the year the index began, but it began to slip down the rankings after crackdowns following democracy protests in 2014 and again in 2019. The Chinese territory now ranks just below the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and slightly above Turkey and India.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that Hong Kong’s press freedom was “as vibrant as ever” citing the large number of regional and international institutions operating in Hong Kong alongside local media.

“This is by itself a very good indication of the vibrancy of press freedom in Hong Kong,” Lam told reporters. “But as I said on many occasions, particularly with the enactment of the National Security Law, journalists, media organisations, are not above the law.”

The broadly-worded law punishes activities deemed subversion, terrorism, collusion with foreign forces and secession with up to life in prison.

Tom Grundy, the founder and editor-in-chief of Hong Kong Free Press, said Lam’s metric was not the best way to measure press freedom.

“The quantity of government-registered news outlets is not an indicator of the quality of Hong Kong’s press freedom,” he told Al Jazeera. “Most outlets in Hong Kong are outright owned by Beijing, owned by Chinese conglomerates or owned by those with business interests in China.”

Grundy said Hong Kong’s dwindling press freedom was “undeniable”.

  • Aljazeera