Hong Kong’s free press is being ‘gutted.’ Here’s what the world loses

A 3rd group — the five-year-old Citizen News — introduced final week that it might shut down, too. But not like Apple Daily and Stand News, Citizen News did not look ahead to police to return knocking earlier than closing store.

“If we cannot continue reporting the way we wanted to and the way we feel safe to, ceasing operation is regrettably the only choice,” chief author Chris Yeung stated throughout a press convention Monday.

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In the 18 months since Beijing imposed a sweeping nationwide safety legislation on Hong Kong, the line defining what can nonetheless be revealed with out breaking the legislation has turn out to be more and more blurred. That’s made all of it the tougher for journalists to know what the authorities contemplate acceptable, and what might land them in jail for years.

That means Hong Kong — as soon as residence to one among Asia’s most vibrant media scenes, and a spot that professes freedom of speech and freedom of the press — has misplaced virtually all its homegrown unbiased information retailers. And, whereas the authorities has dismissed the concept that press freedom has been undermined, the way forward for unbiased reporting appears more and more bleak.

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“The government created this climate of self-censorship and fear, because the uncertainty of what is and is not illegal, and the uncertainty of what is and is not seditious is so blurred right now,” stated former Chinese University of Hong Kong journalism professor Lokman Tsui, who now lives in the Netherlands.

“On the one hand, it’s a story of a bunch of outlets being forced to close down,” he stated. “On the other hand, it’s really the story of how professional reporting in Hong Kong is now so dangerous that you might end up in jail.”

Blurred traces

Citizen News’ announcement did not come totally out of the blue.

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Just days earlier, Stand News shut down after police raided its workplace and arrested seven individuals related to the publication. The “fate of Stand News” triggered the determination by Citizen News, based on Yeung, who is additionally the former chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

The allegations towards Stand News contain a “conspiracy to publish seditious publications,” which stems from a colonial-era crimes ordinance and never the nationwide safety legislation imposed in 2020. The Hong josKong police who raided the outlet’s workplace are nationwide safety officers.

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Ultimately, Citizen News could not ensure whether or not the tales it was asking reporters to put in writing would violate laws, and opted to close to guard its workers, stated Daisy Li, the publication’s chief editor.

Citizen News chief editor Daisy Li Yuet-wah and Citizen News founder Chris Yeung Kin-hing arrive for a press conference.

To many onlookers, the outlet was one more casualty of the metropolis’s more and more restrictive media setting. Like Apple Daily and Stand News, Citizen News revealed articles vital of presidency insurance policies.

The velocity with which the business has been “gutted” over the previous two years is actually dramatic, based on Sarah Cook, analysis director for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at non-profit Freedom House.

Nearly a yr in the past, the Hong Kong authorities introduced it might substitute the director of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) with a public servant with none media expertise. RTHK’s program workers union responded by saying the station had misplaced its editorial independence. Since then, a partnership between RTHK and Chinese state media has raised considerations amongst press freedom advocates that the media group is more and more turning into a propaganda outlet.

Then, in June, a whole bunch of cops raided the places of work of long-running pro-democracy outlet Apple Daily. They arrested executives, froze its belongings underneath nationwide safety fees — and finally prompted it to stop publication.

Police raid Apple Daily’s places of work in Hong Kong in August 2020. Credit: Apple Daily

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“[Hong Kong leader] Carrie Lam is patiently unraveling the substance of press freedom in Hong Kong,” Reporters Without Borders stated in a December 2021 report on China’s press freedoms.

Lam has performed down considerations. This week, she dismissed accusations that Citizen News and Stand News’ shutdowns had been associated to the nationwide safety legislation and pushed again towards the concept that Hong Kong’s free press confronted collapse. She claimed that the retailers made the determination to close on their very own.

“Nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong. And journalists and media organizations like all of us have to respect and comply with the law,” she stated Tuesday. “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.”

What occurs subsequent

Despite Lam’s insistence that there is nonetheless freedom of the press in Hong Kong, the variety of unbiased media retailers is quickly dwindling.

Although there are nonetheless main worldwide media retailers — together with CNN and Bloomberg — working massive newsrooms in the metropolis, there are few vital native unbiased retailers left, with consultants pointing to Chinese-language inmediahk.internet and the English-language Hong Kong Free Press as examples.

Quite a lot of different retailers are both backed by the Chinese state, or have mainland Chinese house owners. The metropolis’s largest English language paper South China Morning Post, as an illustration, is owned by mainland Chinese tech large Alibaba.

There’s an expectation that any unbiased retailers will probably turn out to be targets in the end, stated Hong Kong political commentator Joseph Cheng, who is now based mostly in New Zealand.

Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan, left, and Chris Yeung pose during a press conference for the release of the organization's annual report on July 15, 2021.

Ronson Chan, the chair of the Hong Kong Journalist Association and a former editor at Stand News till it closed, agrees.

Free press may proceed on a small scale, he stated — however as soon as retailers achieve an excessive amount of consideration and sources, they may probably turn out to be targets.

“The media is in a … serious crackdown,” Chan, whose residence was raided by police, advised CNN Business. “The chilling effect will affect many decisions for the management of the other media.”

One year after Hong Kong's national security law, residents feel Beijing's tightening grip
For now, worldwide media have not confronted the identical challenges as native media, though some overseas journalists have been denied visas.
But Hong Kong’s future as a worldwide media hub is in jeopardy. Just weeks after the nationwide safety legislation was imposed in 2020, the New York Times introduced it might transfer some workers out of Hong Kong to Seoul, South Korea. The Washington Post additionally selected Seoul as the location of its new Asia breaking information hub.
In a Foreign Correspondents’ Club survey of 99 Hong Kong-based journalists final yr, 84% stated the scenario for the media had deteriorated since the nationwide safety legislation was launched, and 46% stated they had been contemplating or had plans to go away the metropolis as a consequence of the decline in press freedoms.
For now, the media in Hong Kong is nonetheless nowhere close to as restricted as in mainland China, the place Beijing’s so-called “Great Firewall” of censors severely curtails web entry and journalist visas are tough to acquire.

But the metropolis’s media setting is shifting to turn out to be more just like the mainland.

In the future, Hong Kong might more and more discover itself in a scenario the place media lined the metropolis from the exterior — simply as media do with mainland China, Freedom House’s Cook stated.

And, stated Tsui, the metropolis’s web might turn out to be more restricted, and will see authorities blocking entry to articles it sees as controversial.

Why this issues

Experts additionally level out that the lack of native, unbiased retailers in Hong Kong might additionally undermine the press’ position as an vital group watchdog.

That echoes the struggles that media organizations have had worldwide: In the United States, as an illustration greater than 1,800 newspapers have closed since 2004 and at the least 200 counties have been left with no newspaper in any respect, based on a 2019 PEN America report.

“This is consistent across all countries, all cultures — if local journalism dies, corruption increases,” Tsui stated.

The drawback in Hong Kong, although, is that this development of native media closures has been coupled with different assaults on democracy.

Since the National Security Law was launched, practically all of the metropolis’s main pro-democracy figures have both been jailed or gone into exile. Quite a lot of organizations and unions have disbanded or left Hong Kong, together with the pro-democracy group that organized a few of the metropolis’s greatest protests. And the nationwide safety legislation is now not merely a risk — some activists have now been jailed underneath the act.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a press conference on December 30, 2021 in Hong Kong.

“The suppression of the pro-democracy movement meant that there was no toleration of an opposition, no toleration of checks and balances,” Cheng stated.

And when Stand News and Apple Daily closed, each publications additionally eliminated years of reporting from the web, taking with them a historic file of the metropolis.

“It’s an obvious attempt to remove the memory of Hong Kong people,” stated Cheng.

There’s additionally a reputational value to Hong Kong, which has lengthy positioned itself as Asia’s world metropolis.

Following the raid on Stand News, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to as on China and Hong Kong authorities to cease focusing on the metropolis’s free and unbiased media, and uphold freedom of expression and entry to data.

“These freedoms enabled Hong Kong to flourish as a global center for finance, trade, education, and culture,” he stated in an announcement.

“By silencing independent media, [the People’s Republic of China] and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s credibility and viability. A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press,” he added.

Police officers carry news material and evidence in blue plastic boxes after searching the office of Stand News.

Despite heavy censorship in mainland China, Hong Kong does stay comparatively free. This has allowed it to behave as a form of gateway into the nation, and is why so many companies and media hubs have been based mostly in the metropolis

But as Hong Kong edges nearer to China, that is altering.

“Now even this little peek hole is becoming a black box,” Tsui stated. “What the world is losing is an insight into not just Hong Kong, but also an insight into what’s going on in China.”

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