Authorities in Hong Kong are researching proposed new legislation banning “fake news,” amid an ongoing crackdown on public dissent and peaceful political opposition under a national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“There were five areas [in] which we will need to look at legislation … it’s not just about [a] fake news law, it’s [also] about privacy and so on,” chief executive Carrie Lam told journalists on Tuesday.
“The fake news law needs a lot of research, especially how overseas governments are tackling [this] increasingly worrying trend of spreading inaccurate information, misinformation, hatred and lies on the social media,” Lam said.
She said officials “[are] looking into overseas practices and doing research.”
“We have no timetable whatsoever about this subject but we will continue to be very serious about doing this issue because of the damage it is doing to many people,” Lam said.
Authorities in Hong Kong, including the police, have repeatedly dismissed reports criticizing police violence and the city-wide crackdown on dissent as “fake news,” with state-run Chinese media claiming that such reports are part of an attempt to undermine their authority by hostile foreign powers.
Lam also denied that her government had ordered public broadcaster RTHK to assume a new role following the ouster of the director of broadcasting, the deletion of critical programming from online platforms, and the firing and punishment of critical journalists in recent weeks.
“Nobody has given RHTK a new role,” Lam said. “RTHK has been performing the role of a public broadcaster and it should continue to perform that role properly as a public broadcaster, which [means] being objective, fair, and [supporting] the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [government].”
Her comments came a day after RTHK, a government department that had enjoyed editorial independence before a draconian national security law banned criticism of the authorities, said it wouldn’t renew the short-term contract of Nabela Qoser after her hard-hitting questioning of city officials during the 2019 protest movement.
Management had earlier terminated the permanent civil service contract of TV current affairs anchor Qoser, in a move that was widely condemned as political interference in the media.
RTHK was later criticized by police commissioner Chris Tang over its reporting of police violence during the protests, and a subsequent government investigation found “deficiencies” in the running of the station.
The government in February announced changes to the editorial chain-of-command, replacing the director of broadcasting and reforming RTHK’s editorial structure to “ensure it complies” with government directives.
Career bureaucrat Patrick Li took over from Leung Ka-wing as editor-in-chief from March 1.
On May 3, the station reported that Hong Kong people were rushing to save copies of its programs as the station began removing copies of its older programs from the internet.
Lam declined to comment on the termination of Qoser’s contract or the deletion of RTHK content.
‘Massive decline in freedom’
The Washington-based think-tank Freedom House said in its annual report that China had “run roughshod” over Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and international treaties on its governance after the 1997 handover.
“The territory has suffered a massive decline in freedom since 2013, with an especially steep drop since mass prodemocracy demonstrations were suppressed in 2019 and Beijing tightened its grip in 2020,” the report said.
It said the national security law had “erased almost overnight many of Hong Kong’s remaining liberties, bringing it into closer alignment with the system on the mainland.”
It said the arrests of dozens of pro-democracy activists and politicians for holding a democratic primary ahead of a general election scheduled for September 2020 showed the extent of Beijing’s authoritarian grip on Hong Kong.
“These developments reflect a dramatic increase in the cost of opposing the CCP in Hong Kong, and the narrowing of possibilities for turning back the authoritarian tide,” it said.
Reported by Gigi Lee and Lu Xi for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.