Human Rights Press Awards winners urge respect for media rights

2021.05.06

Winners of the 25th Human Rights Press Awards called on the Hong Kong government to stop obstructing the work of frontline journalists. The joint statement on Thursday came just hours after they claimed the prestigious prizes.

“The dramatic change in the political climate has led to fears of human rights regression. The press is now experiencing unprecedented turbulence,” said the winners, drawing attention to the dire situation of press freedom in the city.

Apple Daily received three awards for its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, the enactment of Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong and police’s role in the escape of the 12 Hongkongers, who were arrested by Chinese coastguards at sea. The annual event is jointly organized by The Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong, Amnesty International Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

The winners noted that Hong Kong has fallen to a historic low on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, from 18 out of 180 countries and regions in 2002 to 80 in 2021. The authorities have also conducted massive raids on news organizations including Apple Daily and tightened the definition of “media representative”, limiting the rights of journalists to report.

In another alarming turn of events, the authorities have recently accused some reports of “sedition” and are mulling laws against “fake news” in a bid to further erase voices of dissent.

They also noted that Bao Choy, among a winning team that revealed police misconduct in a documentary on July 21 Yuen Long attack, was convicted and fined over her investigation work. While another journalist, Nabela Qoser, who was among the awardees, was axed by RTHK after delivering hard-hitting questions at Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Besides withdrawing from the awards, the public broadcaster also deleted archives from YouTube and dropped programs and episodes it deemed sensitive.

“All these moves not only threaten freedom but also create fear. With fear comes worsening self-censorship, hence, weakening the public’s right to know and monitor,” the reporters wrote.

Hitting back at officials’ claim that journalists should have no privilege, they noted that Hong Kong’s mini-constitution and legal provisions endowed journalists with special status. “It is the role of the fourth estate to monitor those in power on behalf of the public that entitles the press to different treatments. The press is granted ‘protection’ rather than ‘privilege’,” they stressed.

“With a pen in hand and the truth in our hearts, may the freedom from fear and favor prevail,” they concluded.

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