Journalists in Hong Kong say the government’s draft law banning “fake news” could make it harder for independent news outlets to operate, as well as limiting the activities of social media accounts that post factual content.
The government plans to have the legislation tabled and passed by the Legislative Council (LegCo), which now has no opposition camp, in the first six months of this year, claiming it is necessary to regulate “fake news.”
Acting home affairs secretary Jack Chan told a meeting of the LegCo home affairs committee on Monday that more laws may be needed to combat fake news.
“Since the violent protests of 2019, we have seen here in Hong Kong how fake news can harm society,” Chan told the committee. “Therefore, we need to use appropriate and effective methods to prevent its being released.”
“While current legislation in Hong Kong is able to target certain types of sabotaging content or content put out with ulterior motives … the coverage may not be comprehensive enough,” he said.
He said the government is currently looking at different ways to target fake news, including requiring online platforms to take responsibility for the accuracy of what they publish, and criminalizing the publication of fake news, requiring direct action from the police if it is discovered.
Ronson Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA), said the draft legislation appeared to be targeting far more than mainstream media, however.
“We’re not talking only about the media as it is generally understood,” Chan said. “It may also be targeting online news site, or even Telegram group chats or online discussion forums.”
Chan said the key role played by Telegram during the 2019 protest movement, which relied on its fast and efficient transmission of information to organize protests, had likely made it a key target of the legislation.
“Of course it will have a huge impact on the flow of information,” Chan said. “My view is that these platforms can … be very helpful for a lot of things, for example, passing information around group chats for residents of housing compounds during the pandemic.”
“But if we see someone wearing PPE and cleaning something, people might conclude that someone has been diagnosed [with COVID-19] … if we can’t confirm that diagnosis, would that be fake news?” he said.
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