Bastion of freedom no more . . .
Hong Kong was once a bastion of media freedom. But this year, Reporters without Borders downgraded its press freedom ranking by a staggering 80 points, calling it an “unprecedented setback.” While the Basic Law once guaranteed such freedoms, the 2020 NSL has dramatically re-shaped the city’s information space. In 2021, the government forced the closure of pro-democracy news outlets like Apple Daily and Stand News and stripped public broadcasting service Radio Television Hong Kong of its editorial independence. Many other media platforms have begun to self-censor, hoping to survive the current dragnet. Messaging platforms like LIHKG and Telegram remain relatively safe spaces for discussing pro-democracy perspectives and updates, but last month authorities debated suspending public access to Telegram. It may only be a matter of time before these spaces also begin to disappear.
Not leaving them kids alone . . .
Other NSL-related measures are being introduced into the city’s education system. All university students are required to take a course on national security that lays out starkly the harsh consequences of violating the law. In high schools, a course on critical thinking has been replaced by one that emphasizes patriotic education – an effort to bolster young Hongkongers’ loyalty to mainland China. To comply, teachers are, in effect, now responsible for possibly informing on their students. As with those in the media, the chilling effect is prompting people to leave the profession.
Hope springs eternal . . .
Some bright spots remain. For example, while more websites are being pulled out of the information space, Hong Kong is not yet under China’s ‘Great Firewall.’ If Beijing continues to see Hong Kong as a place for business for the next 25 years, overly harsh censorship may further harm foreign investment in the city. Meanwhile, the diaspora maintains public spaces where Hongkongers – including the many who have recently left – can carry on political, media, and educational activities relatively safely (although such activities still risk prosecution in Hong Kong and/or mainland China under the NSL’s extraterritorial provisions). But a looming issue remains: Hong Kong’s media and education system pre-NSL encouraged critical thinking and had the potential to hold the powerful to account. The shifting information space will make that much more difficult.