IFJ: Invisible black hand interfering with HK freedom of press

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A report by the International Federation of Journalism (IFJ) on press freedom in China and Hong Kong revealed that, during the Occupy Movement, at least 39 media workers were harassed, detained, assaulted or maliciously accused by Hong Kong police or anti-Occupy Movement demonstrators.

The report also called the state of press freedom and freedom of expression in China in 2014 “deplorable”, with at least 20 journalists having been detained, charged, and even sentenced. Serenade Woo(胡麗雲), spokesperson for IFJ, also commented on the recent detaining of a German journalist’s news assistant following the Occupy Movement.

Woo is a veteran in the news industry. She was the chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association when veteran journalist and political commentator Ching Cheong was detained by Chinese officials in 2006.

“Deplorable”

The IFJ held a press conference yesterday to launch the seventh annual China Press Freedom “CHINA’S MEDIA WAR: Censorship, Corruption & Control”. The federation has monitored and reported on press freedom and violations of media rights in China since 2008.

The report stated that the situation has steadily grown worse since Xi Jinping became President of China in 2013. According to Woo the restrictive orders from the authorities began to extend from traditional media to online media in 2014, with more and more social platforms being monitored and censored for sensitive information.

Woo reported that at least four international media outlets experienced harassment from officials with regards to their reporting, including France 24, ARD TV (Germany), and the Financial Times. She cited an incident on October 23rd where a foreign journalist was detained by Chinese officials, strip-searched and then ordered a drug test. He was demanded forced to sit on an iron chair for 14 hours. Such unprecedented measures, showed a the deteriorating state of freedom of press, Woo believed.

The Invisible Hand

The report included an essay on Hong Kong’s situation contributed by a current reporter, which suggested that there were “several pairs of invisible black hands manipulating the media’s soul”. He observed that government officials, and people with close ties to the government, had made extra efforts to suggest how the reports would be written. During the Chief Executive’s UGL scandal, the writer claims government officials called news outlets for three consecutive days under the pretext to understand how the reports would be written. Instead, they allegedly offered explanations under the guise of “a source” to defend the CE.

The writer also reveals that, during the Occupy Movement, Beijing officials would repeatedly invite media people to “yum cha”, in order to collect intelligence and interfere with their writing angles. He also cites incidents where Mainland officials deliberately create news events through reporters to manipulate public opinion.

Why the rush?

When asked about the implementation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, although Woo said IFJ does not have an official position against the matter, she did propose some reservations. “While the Government is deciding on implementing Article 23 according to its constitutional obligation stipulated in the Basic Law, they should remember that it also clearly states Hong Kong has rights to freedom of press and freedom of assembly,” she says. “We highly question why they would hurry to restrict people’s rights further, when these other rights have yet to be executed properly.”

#FreeMiao

Woo also commented on the reported arrest in China made against Zhang Miao, a news assistant to a German reporter. While she revealed that IFJ is trying their best to help the situation, she explained that reservations and concerns from Miao’s family meant she could not reveal any information on the matter.

Zhang assisted Angela Köckritz, a Beijing correspondent with German publication Die Zeit, to cover the protests in Hong Kong. On the 1st of October, she was detained by Beijing authorities and has been held in custody since.

She did warn the authorities in China, saying, “Since the olympics games in 2008, the state council has issued regulations for Foreign Journalists that give them rights to work freely in the Mainland. Those of the free press, obviously including the assistants who help the reporters to finish a report. So whenever there are any assistants, or any people, even a driver, who are arrested, it is obviously an attempt to suppress the press to report a particular piece of news.” Worryingly, she says, “Zhang Miao was not the only one. There are a lot more. This is another trend that happened in 2014.”