July 9, 2020

Press Freedom

OPC Weekly Press Freedom Update

The Overseas Press Club asks that people join us in supporting global advocates for press freedom, free speech, and human rights.

They continue the fight to observe the timeless principles of press freedom; underscore the urgent need for reporter’s access to information during the coronavirus pandemic; push back against attacks on the media, and sound the call for journalist safety, including the hundreds of imprisoned journalists worldwide.

In this week’s OPC Press Freedom Update, we look at the news involving Hong Kong, Germany and the COVID-19 outbreak:

Hong Kong Autonomy Threatened. Media in Hong Kong are deeply concerned that China’s proposal to impose new national security laws could jeopardize press freedom. The proposed law would ban treason, secession, sedition and subversion. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the Chinese law on May 26 and said existing freedoms would be preserved. “We are a very free society, so for the time being, people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say,” Lam said in her weekly briefing. “Hong Kong’s vibrancy and core values in terms of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the various rights and freedoms enjoyed by people will continue to be there.” However, U.S. officials have called the proposed law the “death knell” for Hong Kong’s autonomy. Human rights advocates believe their work will be threatened under the new law, in addition to punishing protesters, candidates running for office and cutting off Kong Kong from support from the international human rights community. “The potential impact of this national security legislation could be very damaging to the work that we and others are doing,” said Joshua Rosenzweig of Amnesty International.

German High Court Upholds Press Freedom. Germany struck a blow for press freedom against government monitoring when its Constitutional Court overruled the surveillance of foreigners’ global internet communications by the BND, the country’s intelligence service. The court said the BND law is a constitutional breach as it disregards press freedom and the freedom of telecommunications guarantees in the Basic Law. The ruling established that journalists must be granted special protections against surveillance when the legislature creates a new law to regulate the BND. The case was brought by global press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders.

UPDATE: 230 press freedom violations related to Covid-19. Governments around the world are leveraging Covid-19 to restrict the free flow of information among democratic and autocratic states. The global health crisis has enabled governments “to exercise control over the media on the pretext of preventing the spread of disinformation,” said a report by the International Press Institute in Vienna. The IPI has logged 230 press freedom violations since mid-February. The violations include arrests/charges, censorship, restricting access to information, verbal/physical attacks and excessive “fake news” regulation.

UN Secretary General responds to press freedom call. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres responded to the press freedom community’s call to help release 250 jailed journalists worldwide. “No democracy can function without press freedom, which is the cornerstone of trust between people and their institutions, and which is most critical at a time of crisis when citizens demand accountability,” said Guterres, emphasizing that press freedom remains a key priority. A #freethepress campaign launched in late March by The Committee to Protect Journalists called for the unconditional release of the more than 250 journalists in jail. Those journalists have no control over their environment and are often denied medical treatment. “Journalism must not carry a death sentence,” said the CPJ. More than 190 organizations have answered the campaign’s call, in addition to the 11,337 signatures that have been collected.  

U.S.-China Take Turns Retaliating Against Media. There are two major casualties while Washington and Beijing trade political punches: the public’s access to fact-based information during the global coronavirus pandemic, and sidelined journalists and support their staff in both countries. Dozens of journalists have lost out in 2020 as the political battle intensifies. The latest salvo comes from Washington and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which announced a new policy on May 8 that it would only issue visa to Chinese national reporters working in the U.S. for 90 days with visa extensions limited to 90 days. Beijing decried this action and threatened countermeasures in response to what it calls a suppression against Chinese media. In March, the Chinese government expelled 13 U.S. journalists working at news bureaus, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, after revoking their media credentials. The government also dismissed several Chinese nationals working in support roles at U.S. news bureaus in Beijing. This was in response to a move by the U.S. government earlier in March designating five Chinese media outlets as foreign missions and lowering the available number of U.S. visas for Chinese citizens working at those outlets. This forced 60 Chinese journalists to leave the U.S.