For more than 50 years, the Hong Kong Journalists Association has promoted and protected media rights, but now the organization says it is under a “storm” of pressure.
Members of the Hong Kong government and police, and at least one pro-Beijing newspaper, accused the HKJA this month of being biased towards pro-democracy newspapers, recruiting students as journalists and not acknowledge allegations that its members obstructed police during protests.
Ronson Chan, president of HKJA, believes the criticism is part of an effort to force the association to close.
“I would say they’re trying to add pressure on us, maybe they’re hoping to see us and other community groups disband. We won’t, ”Chan said.
Led by journalists working in the city and with more than 500 members, the HKJA acts as a union for media workers with the mission of strengthening press freedom and improving professional standards. The independent group is affiliated with the International Federation of Journalists.
But since Hong Kong’s National Security Law was passed in 2020, the city’s media freedom has been called into question.
In its annual report, published in July, the association notes that “freedoms have seriously deteriorated” and that the risks for journalists have increased.
Report cited media arrests and closure of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, as well as changes to the public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong that resulted in the cancellation of shows amid allegations of bias and the non-renewal of some contracts.
Now, Chan says, the HKJA itself is in a “storm” of pressure.
In an interview with pro-Beijing Chinese-language media Ta Kung Pao This month, Hong Kong Security Secretary Chris Tang accused the Journalists’ Association of having biased views and favoring pro-democracy news outlets.
Tang said that the association’s members include a large number of student journalists. He accused the HKJA of influencing young reporters and promoting the concept that “anyone can be a journalist”, even 13-year-olds.
His comments appeared to refer to a case in May 2020 when a 13-year-old, who was volunteering for a media outlet, was arrested during anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Chan of HKJA told VOA the accusations are not new and called Tang’s comments “illogical.”
He denied that the detained teenager was a member of the association and said journalism students made up “less than 60” of its members.
Tang wasn’t the only official making complaints against the group this month.
During an event at a police college, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Raymond Siu Chak-yee echoed accusations that the HKJA is biased towards certain sectors of the media, and Wen Wei Po, a pro-Beijing newspaper based in the city, criticized the group for its opposition to the government.
In an interview with VOA, pro-Beijing lawmaker Holden Chow said the HKJA “turned a blind eye” to accusations that its members obstructed police during the 2019 anti-government protests.
“There were so-called journalists there helping illegal protests, blocking police operations and some even harassing female police officers,” Chow said.
“We wonder if HKJA is still a professional body,” Chow added in a text message to VOA.
The accusations that journalists blocked or obstructed police during operations in 2019 are baseless, said Chan, who is also editor of the pro-democracy news site. News from the stand.
“Such accusations are repeated and repeated. They have no real proof that the charges are valid, ”he said.
Under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, freedom of the press is guaranteed. But with the National Security Law able to override local city laws, the HKJA is wondering if this can be sustained.
Lawmaker Chow downplayed these concerns.
“As long as the media doesn’t cross the line to endanger national security, I don’t think they need to worry about the loss of press freedom, as some people wrongly accuse it of,” he said. Chow said.
Hong Kong is currently in 80th place in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom rankings, with the media watchdog saying the new law is “particularly dangerous for journalists.”
The international group Human Rights Watch said the national security law erased Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Media analysts told VOA earlier this year that the general climate for journalism has cooled since the law was introduced.
As fear of retaliation under the new law grows, more people are reluctant to speak to the international media.
But speaking at an event at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club this week, pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee echoed Chow’s statement, saying that free speech is “fine. alive ”.
The former security secretary cited pro-democracy news websites such as Stand News as an example of the existence of free speech.
But when asked if the Hong Kong Journalists Association would be able to continue, Ip’s response was less clear, saying only that it “depends on the evidence.”
Chan insists that the HKJA is not acting illegally.
“It is important for Hong Kong that we have (the association); we protect journalists who are ready to tell the truth, ”Chan said.
“We are just doing the job, protecting press freedom and protecting the rights of journalists,” he said, adding that media freedom and rights are not a crime under the law. Hong Kong national security law or local law.
Chan acknowledged that there had been informal discussions about what to do if the pressure increased, but said the association was committed to its mission.
“I still have confidence that we will stay safe and that the (HKJA) will always exist,” he said.
Editor’s Note: The author of this report is a member of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.