Hong Kong eyes ‘fake news’ law, stoking media freedom concerns

Carrie Lam says her government ‘serious’ about tackling the spread of ‘misinformation, hatred and lies’.

Hong Kong's press freedom ranking has fallen over the past five years [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the government was working on “fake news” legislation to tackle “misinformation, hatred and lies,” as worries grow over media freedoms in the Chinese-ruled territory.

Under Beijing’s direction, Hong Kong has taken an authoritarian turn since the imposition of a sweeping national security law in 2020, with a drive for “patriotism” spilling into most aspects of life in the city.

A major overhaul of public broadcaster RTHK, led by a newly appointed bureaucrat with no media experience, is widely seen as a signal that government red lines will soon encircle journalism as they have other sectors, such as education.

Speaking at her weekly news conference, Lam said the government was researching “fake news”, but added she had no timetable for the legislation.

“The fake news law needs a lot of research, especially (on) how overseas governments are tackling this increasingly worrying trend of spreading inaccurate information, misinformation, hatred and lies on the social media,” she said.

“We will continue to be very serious about this issue because of the damage it is doing to many people.”

China has some of the most restrictive laws on misinformation while, elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, Singapore and Malaysia have been criticised for broadly worded legislation on “fake news”.

RTHK freelance producer Bao Choy Yuk-Ling was found guilty last month of ‘improperly accessing public records’ for an award-winning documentary on police handling of a mob attack on pro-democracy protesters [File: Pak Yiu/Reuters]

Lam’s comments come a day after RTHK reported that the public broadcaster would not renew the contract of its journalist Nabela Qoser, known for her tough questioning of Lam and other officials during the anti-government protests in 2019.

RTHK has also begun removing some of its archives from its YouTube and social media channels, prompting online activists to back up some of the content on blockchain platforms.

Another RTHK journalist, Bao Choy, was found guilty by a court last month of “improperly accessing public records” for a documentary on the police handling of a mob attack on pro-democracy protesters, reporters and bystanders in 2019.

Her documentary had won a local press award the day before, but RTHK chose not to accept it.

“Making producers delete their work so that the public can’t have access to information is wrong,” Bao Choy wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Deleting history so that there’s no record of things is wrong. Information is good for society, transparency is good for society, record keeping is good for society.”

The July 2019 attack in northern Yuen Long district, when more than 100 men in white T-shirts hit people with sticks and poles at a train station, sparked widespread criticism of the police including allegations of collusion with triad gangsters, which police deny.

Courts have yet to convict any of the attackers.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 80th out of 180 in terms of press freedom in 2020, compared with 70th in 2015.

The group warned the National Security Law was “especially dangerous for journalists”.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters