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Hong Kong expels New York Times correspondent amid ongoing media war

The New York Times Newspaper (Cottonbro/Pexels)
July 17, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in Hong Kong have refused to renew the work permit of New York Times journalist Chris Buckley, in another indication that the city’s reputation for press freedom is likely a thing of the past.

Buckley was required to leave mainland China in May after Chinese authorities declined to renew his journalist’s visa, and had been working out of Hong Kong, which formerly ran a separate immigration policy from that of China, and which only recently began expelling foreign journalists.

Hong Kong’s Immigration Department declined to renew his application to work in the city last week, without giving a specific reason, The New York Times said.

“The denial is an apparent violation of the Basic Law that guarantees Hong Kong residents’ freedom of the press,” the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement.

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“Barring a New York Times journalist from working in Hong Kong violates the fundamental promise of press freedom given repeatedly to the Hong Kong people,” CPJ Asia program coordinator Steven Butler said in a statement on the group’s website.

“We urge Hong Kong immigration authorities to reverse this decision, which undermines the free flow of information critical to Hong Kong’s success,” he said.

The paper has said it is relocating some of its Hong Kong-based operations to Seoul, South Korea, after the ruling Chinese Communist Party imposed a draconian new security law on the city.

Buckley, an Australian national, declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Thursday. The Immigration Department said it couldn’t comment on individual cases.

‘Hong Kong has no powers left’

Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) chairman Chris Yeung said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the refusal of Buckley’s work permit.

“I wonder if the Hong Kong government actually has any powers left at all now,” he said of the apparent merging of the city’s decision-making processes into those of Beijing.

“If the [Chinese] foreign ministry or the central government have already said that certain foreign journalists won’t be allowed to work in Hong Kong, then what power does the Hong Kong government actually have?” he said.

“[We need to know] if the Hong Kong government still welcomes foreign media organizations to set up offices in Hong Kong, to send journalists here to report on events,” he said. “Or will the central government just refuse to issue visas to a certain few who aren’t welcome?”

Yeung called on the Hong Kong government to clarify the situation, but said he believes the move could lead to self-censorship.

In 2018, Hong Kong immigration authorities refused a work visa renewal application from Financial Times Asia news editor Victor Mallet after he hosted a luncheon with a pro-independence guest speaker at the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

Later in the  year, Mallet was turned away at the airport when he tried to enter Hong Kong on a visitor entry stamp.

Retaliatory moves

Bruce Lui, senior journalism lecturer at Hong Kong’s Baptist University, said the refusal of Buckley’s visa indicates an overall change in the environment for press freedom, which is moving closer to that in mainland China, where government censors limit news organizations to state-approved copy.

“We see for example that the foreign ministry refuses to renew work permits, expelling U.S. journalists, and then we see the same measure being implemented in Hong Kong, as a form of retaliation,” Lui said.

“Hong Kong no longer has a high degree of autonomy, not truly,” he said. “If journalists are seen to have crossed a line, they too will adopt visa sanctions like non-renewal.”

The United States and China have been engaged in a series of retaliatory actions involving journalists in recent months, amid increasing tensions over a range of issues from the coronavirus pandemic to Hong Kong.

China in March effectively expelled around a dozen U.S. journalists from The New York Times, the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post in retaliation after the U.S. State Department designated a number of top state-run media organizations “foreign missions,” and required them to hand over their details of their U.S. personnel and financial information relating to their operations on U.S. soil.