Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that the decision by two online media outlets here to shut down over the span of a week had no direct link to press freedom in Hong Kong, or the national security law.
Citizen News had cited ‘vague laws’ and staff safety in deciding to close down, days after Stand News announced it was halting all operations after seven people associated with the group – including former editors and board members – were arrested on sedition charges.
Asked about the shutdowns while meeting the press ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam stressed that “they made their own decisions [to close down], and there can be no direct link between these events, and press freedom.”
Referring to Citizen News, Lam further noted that authorities “hadn’t done anything” to one of the closed-down organisations, and no law enforcement agency had made contact with it.
“If they have a certain perspective, certain concerns, and then decide to close down – this is something that often happens in Hong Kong’s commercial world.”
“What the SAR government is doing is not to suppress press freedom; what the SAR government is doing is to act according to the law,” she stressed.
The Chief Executive also rejected any notion that the closures are related to the implementation of the national security law.
"If the implementation of the national security law would undermine press freedom, then we would not see any press freedom in the western world. You name me which western country does not have national security law. They have national security legislation far more draconian than the Hong Kong national security law, which is very well-defined," she said.
Lam added that she could not accept assertions that press freedom in Hong Kong is ‘facing extinction’.
"Journalists and media organisations, like all of us, have to respect and comply with the law. If they are fearful of not being able to comply with the law, then they have to make up their mind and take the necessary decisions," she said.
Lam added that she had been "as liberal as possible" when she took office, in opening up government press conferences to online platforms in addition to traditional media – an arrangement she noted remains in place.