Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday, 24 September 2020


China Accuses Foreign Journalists of Meddling in Hong Kong

Updated on 
  • Beijing warns journalists against criticizing new police rules
  • Club had opposed measures asserting power to accredit media

Beijing warned Hong Kong’s foreign correspondents to stop interfering in the city’s affairs under the guise of press freedom, piling further pressure on media organizations in the financial hub.

“We urge FCC Hong Kong to observe national and local laws and regulations, stop provoking trouble on purpose, and refrain from meddling with Hong Kong affairs under any pretext,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s local branch in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region said Wednesday. “No organization or individual shall seek privileges above the law, impede the HKSAR Government’s law-based governance or endanger China’s national security and Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability on the pretext of press freedom.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, which has long advocated for press freedom in Asia, had earlier Wednesday joined local journalists’ groups in opposition to new police rules asserting the power to decide who can legitimately cover protests. Under the new guidelines, police would no longer recognize accreditation provided by local journalism associations, potentially preventing student reporters, freelancers and citizen journalists from covering protests.

Foreign correspondents who don’t have government accreditation may still be able to cover police activity, so long as front-line officers deem them to be representatives of “internationally recognized and reputable non-local news agencies, newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television broadcasters,” the police said in a letter sent to the FCC on Tuesday. Journalists without accreditation will be barred from attending police news conferences and could be challenged while attempting to cover incidents of unrest.

“This is about more than access to events and invitations to the inside of the police cordon,” the FCC said earlier Wednesday. “Journalists who are not recognized under this new policy could face the real possibility of arrest for unlawful assembly or rioting.”

Bloomberg journalists are members of the club and serve on its board.

In its statement, the Foreign Ministry argued that “troublemakers” calling themselves journalists had obstructed police from enforcing the law and assaulted officers during historic anti-government protests last year. They were also “hampering the interviewing and reporting work of other journalists and seriously undermining law and order,” it said.

The Hong Kong Journalism Association and seven other organizations that advocate for press freedom in the city condemned the new accreditation policy, saying it could “pave the way for the implementation of an official licensing system, seriously interfering with press freedoms.”

“We reiterate that Article 27 of the Basic Law clearly guarantees the freedom of the press of Hong Kong residents,” the group said in a statement, calling for the immediate withdrawal of the policy and warning it would consider legal action if it remained in place.

Uneasy Freedom

The accreditation policy is the latest move fueling concerns about the former British colony’s commitment to press freedom in the wake of a national security law imposed by Beijing. The legislation required Chinese agencies and the local government “to take necessary measures to strengthen the management of” foreign news organizations, without elaborating.

Hong Kong ranked 80th in Reporters Without Borders’s latest World Press Freedom Index, falling seven places since last year, when a wave of historic anti-government protests erupted. In August, police raided the newsroom of the city’s largest pro-democracy newspaper, the Apple Daily, and arrested its owner, activist and media mogul Jimmy Lai, on allegations related to the security law.

The FCC has increasingly become the target of criticism from Beijing and its supporters. The Foreign Ministry similarly rebuked the club for criticizing the Apple Daily raid, accusing it of trying “to whitewash and justify Jimmy Lai and other criminal suspects.”

In 2018, Hong Kong authorities refused to extend a work visa for Financial Times editor Victor Mallet, who had, while acting president of the club, presided over a speaking event featuring a pro-independence activist.

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