HKJA addresses concerns over confidence decline in press freedom

According to a new survey from Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), both the public and journalists in Hong Kong believe that press freedom has deteriorated in 2015.

The Hong Kong Press Freedom Index drops 1.4 points to 47.7 for the general public and 0.7 points to 38.2 for journalists, marking a decline in two consecutive years.

In an announcement on 22 March, HKJA Chairperson Sham Yee-lan expresses worries that the all time low rating of press freedom index shows the press freedom, which she describes as a "pillar of Hong Kong’s success", has been "eroded at its roots" while the fundamentals of the rights are also at stake.

Sham points out that journalists being more sensitive to changes in the media industry tend to give a lower rating to press freedom then the general public.

The more significant drop in rating by the general public hints the damages caused to press freedom is so obvious that even the general public is aware of the problem.

To complete the index, a total of 1,021 Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong residents were interviewed by the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong in January 2016.

Both the general public and journalists say over the past year, press freedom had deteriorated.

A total of 54% of public respondents believed that press freedom had worsened, 34% believed there had been no change.

The figures for journalist respondents are more worrying. A total of 85% believe that press freedom has worsened and just 1% believe that press freedom has improved in the past year.

Differing perceptions between the general public and journalists are observed in how they rate other areas in press freedom.

While the general public give an average rate of 6.1, journalist respondents rate it much lower at 5.1 only. It is also found that journalist respondents are more dissatisfied than the general public with press freedom. With 0 being very dissatisfied and 10 being very satisfied, the average rate for the general public is 5.8, a bit lower than last year, for journalists it is 4.4.

While both the general public and journalists believe that self-censorship in Hong Kong becomes more common, journalists regard the problem more serious.

That existing laws are insufficient to allow journalists to obtain the information they needed for reporting also renders undesirable effects on press freedom. With 10 being very adequate and 0 being very inadequate, the average rate for the public is 5.7 and for journalists 4.4, further 0.1 and 0.2 down from 2014 respectively. To counter the deterioration in press freedom, Sham Yee-lan calls for the government to introduce a Freedom to Information Act at the soonest.

On violence against journalists, both the general public and journalist respondents believe that compared with 2014, incidents involving extralegal intimidation or physical violence when reporting are tend to less common. With 10 being very common and 0 being not at all common, the average rate for 2015 for the general public is 4.6 and for journalists 4.9.

Though this year survey reveals a declining confidence in press freedom, both the general public and journalists believe that the effectiveness of the watchdog role played by the Hong Kong media has not worsen further.

The average rate for the general public and journalists both maintains at 6.3 as in the year 2014 (with 10 being very effective).

Sham Yee-lan concludes whereas the survey finds the watchdog role of the media is still effective, without sufficient protection by law, journalists are fighting an uphill battle.