April 27, 2016 — Financial and political pressures from mainland China have gradually eroded Hong Kong’s historically free media over the past decade, according to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report. The trend has grown worse in tandem with deteriorating conditions on the mainland itself, where an already repressive environment for freedom of expression has become even more restrictive since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013. “In the end, Hong Kong’s media environment will be more like the mainland,” Hong Kong–based publisher and political commentator Bao Pu told Freedom House. “More censorship, and more self-censorship.”
Two events illustrated the deterioration in 2015. The Alibaba Group, a major Chinese e-commerce company with close ties to the Beijing government, moved into the territory’s information market by purchasing the South China Morning Post newspaper in December. Meanwhile, five people affiliated with an outspoken Hong Kong publishing house were effectively moved in the other direction, to mainland China, in a series of disappearances. They later reemerged, said they were cooperating with Chinese police, and denied being abducted in statements to the media that many observers believe to have been coerced. Chinese authorities have detained domestic critics and forced them to participate in stage-managed, often televised “confessions” since Xi assumed the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). But the past year saw that practice extend far beyond China’s legal jurisdiction.
Hong Kong residents are, in theory, still shielded from the worst mainland abuses by the “one country, two systems” principle laid down in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which preserves Hong Kong’s freedoms for a 50-year period after its transfer from British to Chinese rule in 1997. But every year, that protection seems less robust.