Comments by Hong Kong’s security chief about national security-related arrests at the Apple Daily are “ominous”, a University of Hong Kong journalism lecturer said on Thursday, warning they could pave the way for tighter government regulation of the media industry.
Senior lecturer Sharron Fast was responding to comments by Security Secretary John Lee, who urged other media to keep their distance from Apple Daily.
Lee warned the public and the media to cut all ties with several Apple Daily executives arrested under the national security law, warning people "would regret it" if they didn't.
"You can see that his dialogue is kind of giving away this idea that we either dehumanise or stigmatise or label someone as being not a normal journalist. That's both ominous and incorrect," Fast said.
"It's ominous because it's promoting this narrative that what is a proper journalist is this particular view by the government. It's incorrect because it's precisely the role of a journalist in a free society to report on political views or developments even if they are unwelcome."
Both the police and the security chief said those arrested were involved in a conspiracy to collude with external forces to threaten national security, and their investigation centred on dozens of articles that allegedly called for foreign sanctions.
Fast criticised the police for failing to clearly explain the nature of the alleged conspiracy or identify the articles in question, saying the "avoidance doesn't instil confidence in press freedom."
As for the future of the pro-democracy newspaper, Fast believes authorities will continue to exert consistent pressure to "slowly cannibalise both the funding and staffing to make the climate so unappealing the company may decide the fight is too much."
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