HONG KONG -- The Hong Kong government is considering a law targeting "fake news" that would allow authorities to demand retractions or corrections from news organizations, a move seen as an attempt to further stifle press freedom.
John Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong's chief secretary for administration, and the territory's security secretary, Chris Tang Ping-keung, are pushing the effort, citing the mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. Both men insist that unverified information circulated online fueled hatred toward police and divided society during the protests that rocked the city.
"The government will move as quickly as possible to enact legislation to counter fake news," Lee said in July.
Xia Baolong, director of the Chinese State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, backs the effort.
Hong Kong law enforcement agencies investigated and dealt with the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, Xia said during a speech in July. He pledged to advance "efforts to reclaim order" in areas such as media and education.
The national security law enacted by China last year allows Hong Kong to take "necessary measures" to strengthen media oversight.
Given that Xia was one of the first Beijing officials to mention Hong Kong election reform before the approval of related legislation by the National People's Congress, his comments spurred speculation that the central government is keen on tightening its grip over news media.
Reports critical of the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong government traditionally have been tolerated under Beijing's "one country, two systems" governing principle for the city. Many Western media outlets have bureaus in Hong Kong.
But that unfettered media coverage appears under siege. The crackdown under the security law forced Apple Daily to close, and authorities are targeting other media organizations.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, referring to a Reuters story two years ago reporting her unofficial comments, said: "We may need a law to restrict such reporting."
Tang and other officials often rail against articles critical of police, labeling them "fake news."
Hong Kong is looking at a law enacted in Singapore requiring online platforms to issue corrections or remove content that the government deems false. The law has been applied to opposition parties.
China's national security law is changing the character of Hong Kong, as many pro-democracy groups in the city disband. Independent news organization Initium Media has said it will relocate to Singapore from Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association has demanded that the territory drop plans to enact "fake news" legislation.
"There is no need to add one more weapon or sword over journalists' heads," said Ronson Chan, chief of the association.
Hong Kong ranked 80th in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, falling from 18th in 2002.
Unrestricted news coverage and a free flow of information tend to encourage investment. Hong Kong's efforts to muzzle dissent could have far-reaching repercussions for city.