Marathoners voice support for press freedom in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AFP) - Runners in Hong Kong's annual street marathon donned blue ribbons on their sports vests on Sunday to show their support for press freedom, as fears grow that the city's independent media is under threat.

An estimated one in 10 of the 64,000 marathoners taking part in the race, including journalists, finance professionals and students, wore the ribbons to protest what is widely seen as creeping self-censorship in the Hong Kong media.

Insiders have warned that the city's status as a bastion of press freedom is being eroded by pressure from Beijing and media bosses loath to lose business in China, where newspapers and television channels are tightly controlled.

"We need to fight for our bottom line. Our core values are, bit by bit, being encroached. But justice for Hong Kong cannot be sacrificed," Ms Kate Cheung, a 27-year-old reporter for a Hong Kong-based news website, told AFP.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said 6,000 ribbons were handed out to runners.

Another runner, 46-year-old auditor Andy Tsin, told AFP: "I support press freedom. We shall fight for the next generation."

Two international groups advocating journalists' rights and censorship-free reporting warned Wednesday that Hong Kong's press freedom was in peril as Beijing, which took over the city's sovereignty from Britain in 1997, seeks to control its press.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said last week media freedom in Hong Kong was currently "at a low point", citing self-censorship among reporters, financial and physical threats against the media and legislative steps that could hinder investigative reporting.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said Hong Kong's media independence "is now in jeopardy" as the world's-second largest economy flexes its muscles to stifle critical coverage.

Organisers of the Hong Kong marathon say 73,000 people registered for the annual run, but roughly 12 percent of them did not show up at Sunday's run, which included full 42-kilometre marathon race, a half marathon and a 10 kilometre race.

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