HONG KONG • China's propaganda chief has reportedly warned Hong Kong's senior media executives not to allow the city's newsrooms to "become a base for interfering with mainland politics" as Beijing ramps up pressure on challenges to its authority.
Concerns about press freedom in Hong Kong have intensified after the government denied a visa to a British journalist, who had chaired a talk by an independence activist at the city's press club in August.
The reported remarks by Mr Huang Kunming, head of the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda department, were quoted by Mr Siu Sai Wo, CEO of Sing Tao News Corporation, who spoke to the media after a meeting with the Chinese official. Mr Siu said Mr Huang told the group of visiting journalists and executives in Beijing that he hoped Hong Kong media "would not become a base for interfering with mainland politics", according to news site Apple Daily.
Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) chairman Chris Yeung said Mr Huang's remarks sounded like "an obvious case of telling media what they should do and what they should not do". The comments were "plainly a clear effort, a clear attempt, to influence the media sector here", Mr Yeung added.
Apple Daily reported that some local news sites later removed references to the reported remarks after officials from Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong said that Mr Huang's comments were off the record. A search by AFP journalists for Mr Huang's quote turned up a report by Commercial Radio Hong Kong, but the link led to a blank page, suggesting the original content might have been removed.
The HKJA said it was "deeply concerned" about the reported removals, adding that it would spark "fear (that) media was practising self-censorship".