Commercial Radio Hong Kong

Freedom of expression is protected by law, and Hong Kong media remained lively in their criticism of the territory’s government and to a lesser extent the Chinese central government in 2014. However, Beijing’s enormous economic power and influence over Hong Kong businesses, politicians, and media owners allow it to exert considerable indirect pressure on the territory’s media, leading to growing self-censorship in recent years.

During 2014, the environment for media freedom declined further as physical attacks against journalists increased, massive cyberattacks crippled widely read news sites at politically significant moments, and businesses withdrew advertising from outlets that were critical of Beijing and supportive of prodemocracy protesters. The year featured an especially brutal assault on a former chief editor of the daily newspaper Ming Pao, as well as a wave of attacks on journalists covering prodemocracy protests and counterdemonstrations.

Legal Environment

Under Article 27 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong residents enjoy freedoms of speech, press, and publication, and these rights are generally upheld by the territory’s independent courts. However, they risk being undermined by the power of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp parliament, to make final interpretations of the Basic Law, as well as by Chinese surveillance in the territory and the mainland economic interests of local media owners. Moreover, the perpetrators and especially the organizers of attacks on journalists in recent years have often gone unpunished, creating a climate of impunity that became more evident in 2014 as the pace of attacks increased. Hong Kong’s Defamation Ordinance establishes defamation as a civil offense punishable by a fine. Although the ordinance includes a definition of criminal defamation, that clause has rarely been used in court.

Hong Kong has no freedom of information (FOI) law. An administrative code—the Code of Access to Information—is intended to ensure open access to government records, but official adherence is inconsistent, prompting local journalists and watchdog groups to urge the government to give freedom of information requirements the force of law. In March 2014, after a year-long investigation into the territory’s existing access to information regime, the Office of the Ombudsman concluded that Hong Kong needed an FOI law. The government responded by stating that it would defer a decision on FOI legislation until after the release of a Law Reform Commission subcommittee report on the issue. Law Reform Commission secretary Stephen Wong Kai-yi said the subcommittee’s report was expected before 2016.

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