The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) warned on Monday that although media workers have never been more pessimistic about press freedom in the territory, the worst is yet to come.
Perceived levels of press freedom among Hong Kong journalists have crashed to the lowest on record according to the association's latest survey on the issue, with 85 percent of the more than 360 respondents blaming the SAR government.
The association's main index on press freedom in 2020 came in at 32.1 out of 100, down 4.1 points on the year before and the lowest figure since the survey was first carried out in 2013.
Self-censorship worsened, it became more difficult to access information, and there was a sense of dwindling legal protections for those in the industry, the survey found.
Almost all the journalists pointed to the introduction of the national security law, the police raid on Apple Daily, and the prosecution of RTHK documentary producer Bao Choy as events in 2020 that damaged press freedom.
HKJA chairman Chris Yeung said the situation last year was the worst he has seen in more than three decades in the industry, but it's only going to deteriorate further.
"We're only at an early stage of a hardened approach by the government to rein in the media, aiming to erode or severely weaken the power of the media as a watchdog... Say, recent examples like [restrictions on] the search of public data, plans to legislate on 'fake news'," he told reporters at a press conference.
"The mainland media largely play the propaganda role, and probably the government's trying to steer the [Hong Kong] media towards that direction."
Yeung added that he was alarmed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam saying recently that "improvements" must be made to the media in Hong Kong.
Besides polling journalists, the HKJA also surveyed a thousand members of the public on their perceptions of press freedom in the territory.
The public actually saw a slight improvement in 2020, noting that there was a lot less violence against reporters than there had been in 2019.