Today we mark World Press Freedom Day. The theme this year is “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”. This highlights the importance of safety of journalists, combating impunity for crimes against freedom of expression, and securing a free and open Internet.
A free media and freedom of opinion and expression are integral to ensuring that citizens can fully exercise their human rights, whether social, economic, cultural or political.
To mark World Press Freedom Day this year, the UK government seeks to shine a light on the plight of individual journalists across the world, many of whom have been obstructed from carrying out their work by being harassed, jailed, or subjected to violence.
Today, we also recognise the role of the internet in strengthening freedom of speech across the globe. Britain is committed to speak against restrictions of freedom of expression on the internet. It is a great strength of Hong Kong that journalists, bloggers, media organisations and individuals are allowed to operate and express themselves freely and safely here in line with international standards.
Article 27 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law guarantees the freedom of speech, of the press and of publication. The widespread and lively coverage by the media of the race for Chief Executive, the Legislative Council elections as well as more controversial stories such as last year’s debate about national and moral education suggests that these freedoms are generally in good shape. More widely, the variety and vibrancy of Hong Kong’s print, radio, TV and social media platforms ensure the citizens of Hong Kong are able to engage meaningfully in discussions and debates, to challenge and to make informed decisions about issues that impact on their prosperity, security and well-being.
The contribution that a free media makes to Hong Kong is therefore something to be valued and a key part of what makes Hong Kong so unique. The Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive CY Leung couldn’t have put it better when he described Hong Kong as a knowledge hub, indeed the Chief Knowledge or Information Officer for China.
But there are signs that confidence in the independence and integrity of the Hong Kong media weakening. For example, a survey last year by the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association found that 87% of the media workers polled thought that press freedom in Hong Kong had deteriorated since 2005. A further survey by Hong Kong University’s Public Opinion Programme survey revealed that almost half of those surveyed thought that the local news media was practising self-censorship.
We welcome the Chief Executive’s response to the concerns flagged in those surveys and his pledge to safeguard press freedoms in Hong Kong – as CY Leung said, these are “core values of Hong Kong and a competitive advantage”. World Press Freedom Day is a good moment to reflect on the importance of a vibrant media to Hong Kong’s success. Long may that vibrancy continue.
(This article originally appeared in Ming Pao Daily News in Chinese on 3 May 2013.)