Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, said on Tuesday that the government was working on “fake news” legislation to combat “misinformation, hate, and lies,” as concerns about media freedoms in the Chinese-ruled territory grew.
After the imposition of a sweeping national security law in 2020, Hong Kong has taken an authoritarian turn under Beijing’s direction, with a push for “patriotism” permeating almost every aspect of city life.
A major reform of public broadcaster RTHK, headed by a newly named bureaucrat with no media experience, is widely interpreted as a warning that government red lines will soon encircle journalism, as they do in other sectors such as education.
At her weekly news conference, Lam stated that the government was investigating “fake news,” but that she had no timeline for 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 stringent anti-misinformation laws in the world, while Singapore and Malaysia have been chastised for broad-brush anti-fake-news legislation.
Lam’s remarks come a day after RTHK announced that the public broadcaster would not renew the contract of its journalist Nabela Qoser, who was known for grilling Lam and other officials during the 2019 anti-government protests.
RTHK has also started deleting files from its YouTube and social media sites, leading online activists to back up some of the content on blockchain platforms.
Another RTHK journalist, Bao Choy, was found guilty last month by a court of “improperly accessing public records” for a documentary about the police response to a mob assault on pro-democracy demonstrators, editors, and bystanders in 2019.
Her documentary had received a local press award the day before, but RTHK declined 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 assault in northern Yuen Long district, in which more than 100 men in white T-shirts attacked people with sticks and poles at a train station, triggered widespread criticism of the police, including charges of involvement with triad gangsters, which the police deny.
No one of the perpetrators has been convicted by a court of law.
In terms of press freedom, Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 80th out of 180 in 2020, up from 70th in 2015.
The National Security Law, according to the organization, is “especially dangerous for journalists.”