Hong Kong Journalists Seeks Information Law Amid Free Press Woes

Hong Kong journalists called on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to enact a freedom of information law and reverse trends that include greater reliance on written statements and attacks on reporters.

The Chinese city should pass a freedom of information law that allows “maximum disclosure” of government data and documents, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said in an annual report. Hong Kong currently relies on a non-legally binding code to allow access to government information, it said.

Press freedom in the former British colony has seen a “noticeable deterioration” since the 1997 handover, with Leung’s government increasing secrecy, the report said. China guaranteed press freedom and other civil rights in Hong Kong, and isn’t subject to state censorship practiced in the mainland.

“On the general press freedom front, the Leung administration’s policies have been far from satisfactory,” the report said. “Mr. Leung and his ministers have relied increasingly on press statements -- instead of full press conferences -- to get their message across, which denies journalists the opportunity to ask questions.”

Other incidents include secret visits by government officials and an increase in attacks against journalists in Hong Kong and China. There were at least 18 assault or harassment cases in the last year, compared with an average of one or two serious assault cases in recent years, the report said.

Hong Kong’s government “strives to disseminate information through various means to enhance transparency,” according to an e-mailed statement from the Information Services Department. Government agencies organize more than 1,000 press conferences and briefings each year, according to the statement.

Leung and his secretaries gave 532 interviews in the first 11 months of his adminstration, compared with 442 for the same period under his predecessor, according to data from the Information Services Department cited by the association.

The government should also scrap a proposed law that would limit access to company records, the report from the journalists association said. Though work on the bill was suspended, officials haven’t abandoned the ideal completely, the association said.

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