Self-Censorship In Hong Kong

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This summer Hong Kong will mark the tenth anniversary of the return of the colony from Britain to Chinese rule. So over the next few months we will begin to see all sorts of assessments over how the place has fared since the handover. It’s a complicated question, with the answer likely to be based as much on who you are asking as on what aspect of Hong Kong life you are considering. Despite some difficult periods like SARS and the Asian economic crisis, Hong Kong has is general fared quite well–especially when compared with some of the dark predictions that were made in the 1990s. At the same time, there is still much uncertainty about the territory’s future role, and a host of concerns about specific issues. One of those, press freedom, was the subject of a survey released this weekend by the Hong Kong Journalists Association. Although the fate of press freedom in Hong Kong has been a worry for some time, the results were surprising. Of the journalists surveyed, 58% said they though press freedom had declined since the handover. Among those journalists who thought things had gotten worse, 72% thought self-censorship was the biggest problem.

Ten years ago the late Sandra Burton, who was TIME’s bureau chief in Hong Kong, said that foreign journalists are less susceptible to pressure than local journalists. I’d say that’s still the case. It’s a matter of distance and economics. It’s much easier to put pressure on a local publication that depends on local advertising revenue. For instance, it’s been alleged that some property developers have pulled advertising from the Apple Daily because of the newspaper’s aggressively pro-democratic stance. I can’t say I’ve noticed any softening of the paper’s approach. But if the journalist’s association survey is any measure, then there must be some sort of softening of coverage by the Hong Kong press in general. Some 30% of the journalists polled said they had practiced self-censorship in the last year, and 40% said they knew a colleague who had.