Beijing aims to silence China’s shining city by the sea

Fears grow that new ‘fake news’ law will be used to muzzle Hong Kong’s independent media

China’s shining city by the sea is looking distinctly tarnished.

In a move to clamp down on “fake news,” Beijing is threatening to strip away the last vestiges of democracy by muzzling Hong Kong’s independent media.

Already China’s ruling Communist Party has taken a sledgehammer to the city’s political system. It has effectively banned pro-democracy candidates from running in elections later this year under a draconian National Security Law and a “patriots” only policy.

Now, mainstream and social media are being targeted under the guise of “misinformation, hatred and lies.”

“The fake news law needs a lot of research … [in] tackling this increasingly worrying trend of spreading inaccurate information, misinformation, hatred and lies,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said at her weekly news conference on Tuesday.

The facts:

  • Lam’s comments came a day after broadcaster RTHK decided not to renew the contract of journalist Nabela Qoser.
  • She was known for her tough questioning of Lam and other officials during the 2019 anti-government and pro-democracy protests.
  • RTHK has also started removing archive material from its Youtube and social media channels, the Reuters news agency reported.
  • Award-winning RTHK journalist Bao Choy was last month found guilty by a court of improperly accessing public records.
  • She was researching a documentary on how the police handled a mob attack on pro-democracy protesters and bystanders in 2019.
  • Her documentary won a media award the day before the verdict. RTHK refused to accept it, Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily reported.
  • The 2019 incident triggered widespread criticism of the Hong Kong police after more than 100 men attacked people with sticks and poles at a train station.
  • There were even allegations of collusion with triad gangsters, which police have since denied.

What was said: “My case is only one of the illustrations under the grander scheme of the political situation – of the whole attack against press freedom,” journalist Choy told the Hong Kong Free Press.

Speech control: “In Southeast Asian countries, fake news laws [can] certainly result in additional restrictions on free speech and press freedom,” Lasse Schuldt, an assistant law professor at the Thammasat University in Bangkok, told the South China Morning Post.

Delve deeper: Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has already been crushed by a Beijing-imposed National Security Law. Leading activists have been rounded up and jailed, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily, a staunch supporter of democracy.

Gagging order: “Fake news laws can become another tool in the authoritarian toolbox,” Schuldt, of the Thammasat University in Bangkok, added.

China Factor comment: We said on March 8 that mainland China was planning to eliminate the last traces of dissent and pack the Hong Kong legislative with pro-Beijing sympathizers. That is likely to happen after elections this year. Now, the media is being targeted as Beijing continues its crackdown on the city.