Hong Kong Media: Safety Concerns Rise  

4 Min
Hong Kong Media: Safety Concerns Rise  

Concerns over media safety in Hong Kong heightened in the past week as reports emerged of journalists being followed.

A court reporter for the English-language news site Hong Kong Free Press filmed an incident on March 22 in which two men followed her for about an hour as she traveled to work.

The reporter, who has not been named in reports, described being tailed by two men with Bluetooth earpieces as she used the metro.

When one of the men was confronted by another reporter, he declined to answer questions on what he was doing and hid in the public restroom.

The court reporter’s media outlet, known locally as HKFP, shared footage of the incident on its website.

Following coverage of that incident, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement that it had received reports from other journalists who experienced similar behavior in recent weeks.

“The Hong Kong Journalists Association received reports last week from different news organizations and journalists that several journalists were being followed or monitored by unknown men,” the association said, adding that it “strongly condemns attempts to harass or intimidate journalists.”

Police are investigating the incident involving the HKFP journalist, local media reported.

HKFP condemned harassment of its staff, saying on social media that it will “use every bureaucratic [and] legal avenue possible to follow-up, relentlessly.”

“We’ll film it, make police complaints, publish stories, enlist NGOs & our lawyers, & reserve the right not to blur faces. Every single time,” tweeted Tom Grundy, editor-in-chief and founder of HKFP.

VOA requested additional comments but Grundy declined.

Founded in 2015, HKFP has reported extensively on the pro-democracy movement and the introduction in Hong Kong of the national security law.

The outlet is funded by donations, and although it is accessible in Hong Kong, the website is blocked in mainland China.

Media rights associations, including Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, issued statements on the incident and urged police to investigate.

“We are concerned by the fact a Hong Kong Free Press reporter was ostentatiously followed in broad daylight by an unidentified individual and insist that journalists should at all times be able to work freely and without fear of harassment,” Cedric Alviani, RSF East Asia Bureau director, said in a statement.

Hong Kong ranks 148 out of 180 regions on the RSF Press Freedom Index, where 1 shows the best environment for media.

The Hong Kong Journalist Association released a statement asking whether the men who followed the reporter were plainclothes police.

“To allay doubts, the [association] is asking the police and the judiciary whether the men are law enforcement officers and whether there have been any recent enforcement actions against journalists,” the group said in a statement.

“If the men are not law enforcement officers, the [association] urges the police to investigate and follow up seriously and bring suspicious persons to justice as soon as possible.”

VOA requested comment from Hong Kong’s Security Bureau but as of publication had not received a response.

Hong Kong police have dismissed the claims made by the journalists’ associations, saying the allegations were “unverified,” according to local reports.

Fears rise

Several journalists have spoken of an uncertain environment for media since the national security law was introduced.

More than 100 protesters, journalists and lawmakers have been detained under the act and the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and the news website Stand News are among the dozen outlets to have been shuttered since the security law took effect in 2020.

Steve Vines, a British journalist who spent three decades in the city, says he left Hong Kong in 2021 after receiving warnings from people who, he said, were “hostile to the democracy movement.”

Vines, who was a host for public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong and a columnist for the HKFP, said he wasn’t surprised at hearing the news about the court reporter.

“The problem is the space for independent journalism in Hong Kong has reduced so dramatically, it’s surprising it even exists still in Hong Kong,” he told VOA. “The fact the people who are trying to maintain a free and independent press [are] being harassed [is] unfortunately not surprising. Worrying but not surprising.”

Vines, who is now living in Britain, said that some Hong Kong media outlets had to move operations outside the region as a safeguard against possible retaliation.

Authorities have previously said the national security law was introduced to bring stability after anti-government protests in 2019. It criminalizes secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces and carries hefty sentences.

When asked about journalist concerns over the media environment, Hong Kong’s national security bureau told VOA last year the city’s government is firmly committed to safeguarding press freedom.

Jeffrey Timmermans, who oversaw the undergraduate journalism program at Hong Kong University until 2021, told VOA in a message that in a time of uncertainty for media, it has been positive to see how organizations like HKFP keep working.

“There’s always an element of uncertainty about news organizations that rely on donations, but it’s been wonderful to see how many individuals have continued to support Hong Kong Free Press. That’s a testament to the quality of their content, and the need for such a news site,” he said.

“Sadly, I fear that all independent media in Hong Kong will be targeted,” said Timmermans, who currently teaches at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

—–A VOA REPORT, Mar 29, 2023