Hong Kong leader John Lee says no need for law targeting fake news, citing faith in practitioners’ self-discipline

Hong Kong leader John Lee says no need for law targeting fake news, citing faith in practitioners’ self-discipline

Hong Kong does not need a law targeting fake news as the media industry has improved and practitioners’ “self-discipline and professionalism” can curb the circulation of falsehoods, the city’s leader has said.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu made his position clear on the controversial issue on Tuesday ahead of the weekly meeting of his key decision-making Executive Council. It followed Secretary for Justice Paul Lam Ting-kwok’s revelation that a fake news law was off the legislative agenda.

Lam earlier told the Post in an exclusive interview that there were “very difficult legal questions” surrounding key definitions of the law.

Hong Kong’s media industry had improved “since the worst period”, the city leader said when asked whether the newly enacted domestic national security law, known as Article 23, would be employed to tackle the spread of fake information.

Lee added that he had seen efforts made by some media practitioners and outlets in “refuting or correcting” misinformation.

“If the industry can tackle this problem by maintaining self-discipline and professionalism, we should go for this as the first option,” Lee said, without giving examples or naming media outlets.

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The idea to legislate against fake news and information was first mooted by then-city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in 2021, in response to misinformation spread during the months-long social unrest in 2019.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association warned the law could make it harder for independent news outlets to operate and said it would have a huge impact on the flow of information.

Last year, Lee said enacting a law would only be a last resort, stressing the need for the administration to consider Hong Kong’s image as a free society.

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Justice minister Lam told the Post the need for a law targeting fake news had been partly met by the passage of legislation mandated by Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

The Safeguarding National Security Ordinance spans 39 offences divided into five categories: treason; insurrection, incitement to mutiny and disaffection, and acts with seditious intention; sabotage; external interference; and theft of state secrets and espionage.

It outlaws certain acts of spreading false statements that pose threats to national security.

Citing Singapore’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act that came into force in October 2019, Lam said it was challenging to define what constituted fake news.

Lam said it remained unclear whether the city state’s law was effective in application or had any “negative consequences”.

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