Hong Kong Has Dropped to the Bottom of the Press Freedom Rankings

A man sitting outside reading a newspaper in Hong Kong.

A recent opinion survey shows that public satisfaction with Hong Kong's media has hit rock bottom. (Image: Tuomaslehtinen via Dreamstime)

According to a survey of 1,004 Cantonese-speaking adults conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI), satisfaction with the performance of the news media, in general, has reached an all-time low. Satisfaction with press freedom in has dropped by 23 percentage points, its lowest position since records began. 

Only 28 percent of respondents were satisfied with Hong Kong’s press freedom, a new low since September 1997 when the question was first asked, while 51 percent were dissatisfied, the highest number since October 2020.

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Furthermore, a record 46 percent said that the Hong Kong news media did not fully use the freedom of speech that it did have, while 63 percent said the media held back on criticizing the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and 51 percent said it avoided criticizing authorities.

Satisfaction with press freedom in Hong Kong has dropped by 23 percentage points, its lowest position since records began.
A record 46 percent said that the Hong Kong news media did not fully use the freedom of speech that it did have. (Image: Gubgib via Dreamstime)

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has dropped down in the international press freedom ranking, too. This is after authorities used a draconian new security law to stifle critical news outlets and arrest journalists. 

According to senior journalist Chris Yeung, these figures are a reflection of the ongoing crackdown against public dissent and political opposition under the CCP’s harsh national security law, which has resulted in the closure of several pro-democracy news sites and the imprisonment of senior journalists.

According to RFA, Yeung said: “The trend is obvious. At the very least, it’s very clear that the public believes the media has reservations and self-censors when dealing with matters relating to the central government. Many Hong Kong matters now include the point of view of the central government, from the national security law to COVID-19 policy and even the recent [China Eastern] air crash.”

Yeung stated that it was clear to him that the survey findings were tied to the shutdown of several media outlets, notably the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and Stand News. 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a media rights watchdog, has ranked countries and territories throughout the world based on how free their press is. 

Hong Kong has dropped 68 positions in press freedom in the past year

According to RSF, under Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong, a regional media hub for both international and local media, has steadily declined. It has dropped 68 positions in press freedom in the last year to 148th, placing the international commercial center between the Philippines and Turkey.

Following large-scale pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong three years ago, China imposed increasingly repressive restrictions. It enacted a broad national security law in 2020, crushing opposition and imprisoning scores of democracy activists and journalists.

Hong Kong police in riot gear.
Following large-scale pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong three years ago, China imposed increasingly repressive restrictions. (Image: Gubgib via Dreamstime)

RSF has repeatedly classified China as one of the world’s most hostile countries to journalists, now ranking 175th out of 180.

According to Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia Bureau, officials initially utilized the law to target political opponents and democracy campaigners, but it became more used against local media throughout 2021. According to Alviani, RSF’s database now identifies 13 Hong Kong media workers as being imprisoned, a figure he calls “enormous” and equivalent to nearly 10 percent of all recorded journalist detentions in China. 

However, until recently, Hong Kong was a comparative oasis of free speech under the “one country, two systems” formula in which Beijing promised the city crucial freedoms and autonomy for the next 50 years from the time Britain handed over control in 1997. 

When RSF released its first assessment in 2002, the city had some of the freest media in Asia and was ranked 18th in the world. 

For the time being, the security law only applies to local media, although concerns have been raised about the future of international journalists based in the region. The city’s foreign press club canceled Asia’s most prestigious human rights awards last week, citing the security bill as a danger. 

AFP, Bloomberg, CNN, The Economist, and the Financial Times are among the major news organizations with long-standing Asia headquarters in the city.

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