Hong Kong: Authorities signal legislation to ban “fake news”

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, said during a news conference on May 4 that the government was considering introducing legislation to combat “fake news”. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses concern at such ‘problematic’ legislation and calls on the Hong Kong government to do more to support freedom of the press.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong on March 30, 2021. Credit: Anthony WALLACE/ AFP

On May 4, Lam said the government was researching a new law aimed at addressing the “increasingly worrying trend of spreading inaccurate information, misinformation, hatred and lies on social media” because of “the damage it is doing to many people.” Lam said there was no timetable for legislation, and that officials were looking into overseas practices.

The chief executive’s comments follow remarks made at the Legislative Council in February that the Hong Kong government would work to tackle both personal privacy infringements and the dissemination of “fake news” and hate speech.

The prospect greatly concerns members of the press in Hong Kong, particularly given the extent to which press freedom has suffered since the imposition of a sweeping national security law in 2020. The IFJ says international experience has shown how legislation claimed to tackle fake news is invariably used by authorities to quash critical voices and further muzzle the press.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong issued an open letter to Hong Kong’s police chief, Chris Tang, after he said on April 16 that police would investigate people endangering Hong Kong's security through the use of fake news. The commissioner of police also alleged “foreign forces” made use of “agents in Hong Kong to incite hatred, divide society, create conflicts and threaten people who speak the truth with fake news and disinformation.”

The FCC letter on April 22 said: “The term ‘fake news’ is vague, subjective and has been used by public figures around the world to attack coverage they view as unfavourable – and the journalists responsible for it – even when it is factually correct.”

The IFJ said: “Fake news laws have become synonymous with governments and public figures targeting genuine reporting that reveals information that some do not want told. International experience has shown the problematic nature of such legislation, which further mires governments and courts in baseless cases and ultimately becomes a greater challenge to democracies at large.” 

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram