Hong Kong bans multiple media from John Lee inauguration and July Day celebrations

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Hong Kong has effectively banned several independent newspapers, international media and news agencies from attending the inauguration of new leader John Lee, as well as covering other July 1 events celebrating the 25th anniversary of the handover.

John Lee. File Photo: John Lee Campaign.

Among those who did not receive an invitation are Nikkei, Asahi Shimbun and Kyodo News in Japan, CTV in Taiwan, Getty Images in the United States, as well as InMedia, PSHK, TMHK and HKFP in Hong Kong. The European Photo Press Agency also did not receive an invitation.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is rumored to be attending the festivities, with hotels around the Wan Chai Exhibition Center booked by the government.

The Information Services Department (ISD) privately invited selected broadcasters to nominate 20 journalists to attend, while other news outlets were able to send ten journalists.

He nonetheless cited the pandemic when banning other outlets – many of which were welcomed weeks ago for the small-circle election: “[T]The government has adopted appropriate media arrangements after considering the latest epidemic situation, security requirements and venue constraints, etc. a spokesperson told HKFP, although there was no record of security concerns at similar events involving the press. “These factors have an impact on the number of media organizations invited to apply for accreditation,” they added.

CEO-elect John Lee meets the press after being chosen as leader. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Many banned outlets, including HKFP, are registered with the government and regularly attend events such as the Tuesday general manager’s press conferences.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement on Thursday that it was “deeply concerned” by the decision, saying at least 10 media outlets were affected: “[HKJA] urges city authorities to be more inclusive in accepting applications from media organizations willing to attend, so that those with a sizable readership can fulfill their duty to keep the public informed by reporting on Hong Kong’s historic moments.

He said similar official events were open to the media without private invitations.

Steven Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists also criticized the decision: “Banning certain media outlets from freely covering such events seriously undermines the credibility of new chief executive Lee, who has repeatedly said that Hong Kong enjoys the freedom of press”. he said.

The NGO Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, tweeted that it was “appalled” by the decision and “the growing censorship”.

HKFP contacted the general manager’s office, Lee’s office, and submitted a freedom of information request to ISD to acquire the full list of invited media.

Lee: ‘Unlimited’ press freedom

The current administration has repeatedly asserted that press freedom is intact in Hong Kong, despite raids on newsrooms, the arrest of journalists and the closure of four outlets in less than a year in under national security law.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

On Monday, Lee – a former police officer – said: “As long as they don’t break the law, press freedom is unlimited.” In April, he said freedom of the press was already in the “pocket” of all Hong Kongers and therefore did not need to be defended. The new leader has promised a “fake news” law and a local version of the security law.

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Beijing’s Hong Kong leader Luo Huining, also speaking on Monday, said the city’s media must clear the “dirt”.

“In a diverse society like Hong Kong, we especially need media that loves the country and Hong Kong, that can drain garbage and bring fresh water, and we need patriotic media that stand firm in their mission and assume their responsibilities,” he said.

Explanation: The decline of press freedom in Hong Kong under the national security law

Hong Kong has plummeted in Reporters Without Borders’ international press freedom index. In the past year alone, it has plunged 68 places to 148th, sandwiching the international business hub between the Philippines and Turkey.

On a recent trip to the Pacific Islands, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi returned largely empty-handed after calling for multilateral security and development pacts. Coverage of the trip was dominated by the restrictions Beijing tried to impose on local media.

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