Hong Kong's Carrie Lam jokes about need for law to muzzle media leaks

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was referring to comments published by Reuters at the height of Hong Kong's protests in 2019. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong's leader criticised media that published her comments in a private meeting, and joked that a law might be needed to curb such reporting - comments that are likely to fan concerns about the city's press freedom.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on a radio talk show on Friday (July 23) that a two-year-old report on comments she had made in a closed-door meeting of businessmen in 2019 "showed the integrity and the morality of some of the media".

She added that the "media should not have reported something that was given in that fashion".

Mrs Lam, speaking on the Radio Television Hong Kong show Backchat, was referring to comments published by Reuters at the height of Hong Kong's protests in 2019.

In the comments, Mrs Lam acknowledged that she had caused "unforgivable havoc", and said that she would quit if she had the choice. The RTHK host noted that Reuters had not done anything illegal by reporting her comments.

"Perhaps a law needs to be introduced," Mrs Lam replied, with a laugh.

The remark comes at time of growing anxiety over civil liberties in the former British colony, where China had promised to protect freedom of the press until at least 2047 under a "one country, two systems" framework.

Democracy advocates, foreign governments and human rights groups accuse Mrs Lam's Beijing-backed government of chipping away at those rights in the city, which for decades has been a regional hub for numerous international news organisations.

A national security law enacted by China last year called for greater regulation of the foreign media and a top police official has since said that the authorities would pursue prosecution for those who endanger Hong Kong's security via fake news.

Mrs Lam has said her government is researching how other nations were handling the "increasingly worrying trend of spreading inaccurate information, misinformation, hatred and lies on social media".

In June, the Hong Kong authorities used the security law to arrest top editors at the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, which subsequently shut down after the government froze its bank accounts.

In a statement after the newspaper's closing, United States President Joe Biden said it was a "sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world" and said China was wielding its power to "suppress independent media and silence dissenting views".

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