HONG KONG, June 3 (Xinhua) -- A senior official of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government Sunday quoted independent surveys as saying that freedom of speech and press freedom have improved since 1997 when it returned to China's motherland.
Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology of HKSAR government Joseph Wong made the remarks when addressing at Hong Kong Journalists Association 39th Anniversary Gala Dinner here Sunday night, citing surveys by the Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong.
According to the University of Hong Kong's independent surveys, the rating for freedom of speech was 7.46 in January this year, compared with 7.17 for freedom of speech in August 1997, just a month after the handover of sovereignty in 1997.
Meanwhile, the rating for press freedom was upgraded to 7.40 in January this year from 7.02 in August 1997.
"We have one of the freest societies in the world," Wong said. "These freedoms did not leave us when Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China in 1997."
Freedom of speech and press freedom have been enshrined in Article 27 and Article 4 of the Basic Law, a mini-constitution for the special administrative region that guarantees a free media and free expression and requires the HKSAR to safeguard the rights and freedoms of residents in accordance with law.
Wong said the HKSAR government has a constitutional duty to protect freedom of the press, among other freedoms, adding Hong Kong's independent judiciary ensures that no institution and nobody is above the law.
Wang said he was convinced that freedom of speech and critical comments on every aspect of public administration provide the necessary checks and balances in a modern and civil society.
As an international center of finance, commerce and telecommunications, Wong said, Hong Kong depends and thrives on split-second and unfiltered flow of information.
He said Hong Kong had the largest number of newspapers per capita for any place.
"Not only do they criticize the government, they also criticize one another; and in so doing, they offer the full spectrum of opinions and provide the necessary checks and balances," Wong said.