Hong Kong is researching possible “fake news” law amid erosion of media freedom

Hong Kong is researching possible “fake news” law amid erosion of media freedom
AP Photo/Vincent Yu
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Hong Kong authorities are researching proposed new legislation to ban “fake news.” The move comes amid an ongoing crackdown on public dissent and peaceful political opposition under a national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

"There were five areas [in] which we will need to look at legislation ... it's not just about [a] fake news law, it's [also] about privacy and so on," Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told journalists on Tuesday.

"The fake news law needs a lot of research, especially how overseas governments are tackling [this] increasingly worrying trend of spreading inaccurate information, misinformation, hatred, and lies on the social media," Lam said.

She said officials "[are] looking into overseas practices and doing research."

"We have no timetable whatsoever about this subject but we will continue to be very serious about doing this issue because of the damage it is doing to many people," Lam said.

The police and authorities in Hong Kong have continuously dismissed reports criticizing police violence and the crackdown on dissent as “fake news,” with state-run Chinese media asserting that the reports are an attempt by hostile foreign powers to undermine Chinese authority.

Lam also denied that her government ordered RTHK, a public broadcaster, to assume a new role following the dismissal of the director of broadcasting, the deletion of programming from online platforms and the punishment and firing of critical journalists in recent weeks. 

"Nobody has given RHTK a new role," Lam stated. "RTHK has been performing the role of a public broadcaster and it should continue to perform that role properly as a public broadcaster, which [means] being objective, fair, and [supporting] the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [government]."

Lam’s comments come a day after RTHK, a government department that enjoyed editorial independence before national security law banned criticism of authorities, stated it would not renew the short-term contract of journalist Nabela Qoser after her direct questioning of city officials during the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement. 

Qoser’s previous civil service contract was terminated and replaced with the short-term one, which was widely condemned as political interference within the media. 

RTHK has also faced criticism from police commissioner Chris Tang over its reporting of police violence over the protests, and a government investigation found “deficiencies” in how the station was run. 

Washington-based think tank Freedom House stated in its annual report that China had “run roughshod” over Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and international treaties after the 1997 handover. 

"The territory has suffered a massive decline in freedom since 2013, with an especially steep drop since mass pro-democracy demonstrations were suppressed in 2019 and Beijing tightened its grip in 2020," the report stated.

It said the arrest of many pro-democracy activists and politicians for holding a democratic primary ahead of a general election displayed the extent of Beijing’s authoritarian hold on Hong Kong. 

"These developments reflect a dramatic increase in the cost of opposing the CCP in Hong Kong and the narrowing of possibilities for turning back the authoritarian tide," it said.

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