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Hong Kong media freedom march

February 23, 2014

Protesters have rallied in Hong Kong to demand that the city government halt a perceived erosion of media freedom. Journalists claim mainland China is increasingly seeking to influence editorial decisions.

Protesters sit outside the office of Hong Kong's Chief Executive during a demonstration demanding for freedom of speech and press freedom in Hong Kong February 23, 2014. Organisers said more than 6,000 people took part, while police put the crowd at 1,600 at its peak, as they protested against what they see as diminishing press freedom in the territory, government radio reported on Sunday. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Organizers claimed that 6,000 people participated in the march on Sunday, although police figures put the attendance at less than 2,000.

The rally finished outside the office of the city's chief executive, where guest speakers, including broadcasters and writers, claimed they had had their work censored.

Two international organizations earlier this month raised concern about the status of press freedom in Hong Kong. The New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said media freedom in the city was "at a low point," while Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said Hong Kong's media independence was "now in jeopardy."

"A journalist's duty is to report, not to protest but our consciences compel us to raise the alarm," said Hong Kong Journalists Association Chairperson Sham Yee-lan. "Those in power are attacking the media and their ultimate aim is to create a population kept in ignorance and blind loyalty."

Beijing anxious over elections?

Journalist groups claim headlines have been edited, interviews prohibited and columnists fired.

Tensions have risen in the semi-autonomous region, where political reforms are being put into place ahead of unprecedented direct elections for a new city leader in 2017.

It remains unclear if the list of contenders will include pro-democracy candidates. Journalists in Hong Kong claim China's national government is increasingly nervous about pro-democracy contenders, and has directed propaganda officials to increase their influence within newsrooms.

The former British colony and regional business hub enjoys a considerable degree of autonomy, and is a relative beacon of press freedom compared with other parts of China. A deal between Britain and China ahead of the handover in 1997 stipulated that freedom of the press - along with other rights - be preserved for at least 50 years.

rc/ipj (AFP, Reuters)