Press Freedom Update Aug. 27

This week’s OPC Press Freedom update focuses on China as news media in Hong Kong struggle to practice journalism under Beijing’s new national security law.  

By the Numbers: China

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders)

China ranks 136th among 180 countries

RSF ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists.  

Global Freedom Report (Freedom House)

China scores 10 out of 100; Rating – Not Free

Freedom House annually rates people’s access to political rights and civil liberties.

10 Most Censored Countries (The Committee to Protect Journalists)

China ranks No. 5

CPJ’s annual list is based on censorship tactics used by authoritarian governments – imprisonment, repressive laws, surveillance of journalists and restrictions on internet/social media.

Work Visa Denial Is Latest Beijing Tactic to Undermine Hong Kong Press Freedom

The denial of a work visa for a veteran Irish journalist is the latest example of press freedom’s erosion in Hong Kong under China’s new national security law.

The city’s Immigration Department rejected the visa application of Aaron McNicholas, the incoming editor of Hong Kong Free Press, following a six-month wait and offering no reason for the decision.

The move occurs several weeks after New York Times reporter Chris Buckley was forced to leave Hong Kong after he was denied a visa, though observers believe that decision stemmed from the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute. The Times moved one-third of its local team to South Korea soon thereafter.

Tom Grundy, the editor-in-chief of HKFP, says the McNicholas visa denial is payback for the new outlet’s coverage.

“We are a local news outlet and our prospective editor was a journalist from Ireland, so this is not another tit-for-tat measure under the U.S.-China trade dispute,” says Grundy, according to news reports. “It appears we have been targeted under the climate of the new security law and because of our impartial, fact-based coverage.”

This is the first time that McNicholas and HKFP have been denied a work visa. Though the outlet will press the government for an official explanation and consider a legal challenge, Grundy says there are negative implications for the business community that could result from this decision.

“Other sectors can expect to be subjected to similar bureaucratic rigamarole in light of the security law,” says Grundy. “Companies are already leaving or avoiding the city for this very reason. Businesses can be assured that visa issues are now a feature, not a bug. They may decide that Hong Kong is no longer a suitable place to set up a regional headquarters or base.”

Several weeks ago, the Foreign Correspondents Club noted that long delays in processing work visas has had a chilling effect on foreign journalists who want to work in Hong Kong.

“Reports about these changes have emerged with no official confirmation or transparency, which has raised serious concerns among the many international media organizations and journalists that have the right to operate freely in Hong Kong,” says Jodi Schneider, president, Foreign Correspondents Club.

Other media groups and press freedom advocates believe the move accelerates the press freedom decline under the new security law.

“The Hong Kong government must revert this decision that clearly goes against press freedom, a principle enshrined the Basic Law,” says Cedric Alviani, East Asia bureau chief, Reporters Without Borders.