Hong Kong journalist association says press freedom deteriorating

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association says press freedom has deteriorated in the special administrative region of China and it has become more dangerous for journalists to do their jobs.

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In its first annual report since last year’s pro-democracy protests shut down key thoroughfares for 79 days, the Association highlighted a spate of physical attacks against journalists, staff changes, self-censorship and financial pressures.

The most violent physical attack was in February, when Kevin Lau, the former chief editor of Ming Pao Daily News, was chopped with meat cleavers.

As Hong Kong’s democracy protests ramped up, other individuals were also targeted. Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Media and a long-time democracy activist, had his house fire-bombed and his emails hacked, and Tony Tsoi, who ran online news platform House News, closed it suddenly and was temporarily unreachable, leaving only a note saying he was “frightened” and that his family was coming under pressure.

More than 30 journalists reported injuries while covering the Hong Kong protests, including being hit with police batons and pepper spray, and being dragged, kicked, punched, mocked and arrested by law enforcement officers, the report said.

The Hong Kong democracy protests were over how the city would select its next chief executive.

In addition to physical violence, the report also raised concerns about staff changes, self-censorship and funding.

Senior Hong Kong news executives were invited to Beijing in the spring of 2014 to meet Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Director Wang Guangya who told them to make it clear that most people opposed the protests, which would damage the city, the report said.

Amid concerns about increasing pressure from Beijing, two Chinese-language newspapers got new chief editors, one former chief editor said he had faced pressure to drop a column by protest leader and university professor Benny Tai, and senior editors at a local newspaper and a local broadcaster intervened in the wording and placement of protest stories, the report said.

The report noted that mainland China-funded companies had pulled advertising from some Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong and highlighted shareholding changes at broadcaster TVB that gave Li Ruigang, chairman of state-owned Shanghai Media Group and deputy secretary general of the Shanghai Communist Party’s administration office, an undisclosed stake.

Reporting by Clare Baldwin; Editing by Mark Potter