HomeWorld NewsHong Kong's free press is being 'gutted.' Here's what the world loses

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 will shut down, too. But in contrast to Apple Daily and Stand News, Citizen News did not watch for police to come back 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 mentioned throughout a press convention Monday.

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

That means Hong Kong — as soon as dwelling to one in every of 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 impartial information shops. And, whereas the authorities has dismissed the concept that press freedom has been undermined, the way forward for impartial reporting appears to be like more and more bleak.

“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,” mentioned 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 mentioned. “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 strains

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

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, in keeping with Yeung, who is additionally the former chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

The allegations in opposition to 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.

Ultimately, Citizen News could not make sure whether or not the tales it was asking reporters to jot down would violate rules, and opted to close to guard its workers, mentioned Daisy Li, the publication’s chief editor.

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

The pace with which the trade has been “gutted” over the previous two years is actually dramatic, in keeping with 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 will exchange 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 concerns among press freedom advocates that the media group is more and more turning into a propaganda outlet.

Then, in June, lots of of law enforcement officials raided the places of work of long-running pro-democracy outlet Apple Daily. They arrested executives, froze its property underneath nationwide safety fees — and in the end prompted it to stop publication.

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

“[Hong Kong leader] Carrie Lam is patiently unraveling the substance of press freedom in Hong Kong,” Reporters Without Borders said 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 have been associated to the nationwide safety legislation and pushed again in opposition to the concept that Hong Kong’s free press confronted collapse. She claimed that the shops 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 mentioned 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 impartial media shops is quickly dwindling.

Although there are nonetheless main worldwide media shops — together with CNN and Bloomberg — working massive newsrooms in the metropolis, there are few important native impartial shops left, with specialists pointing to Chinese-language inmediahk.web and the English-language Hong Kong Free Press as examples.

A number of other outlets are both backed by the Chinese state, or have mainland Chinese homeowners. The metropolis’s largest English language paper South China Morning Post, as an example, is owned by mainland Chinese tech large Alibaba.

There’s an expectation that any impartial shops will doubtless grow to be targets eventually, mentioned 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 mentioned — however as soon as shops achieve an excessive amount of consideration and sources, they are going to doubtless grow to be targets.

“The media is in a … serious crackdown,” Chan, whose dwelling 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 international journalists have been denied visas.
But Hong Kong’s future as a world media hub is in jeopardy. Just weeks after the nationwide safety legislation was imposed in 2020, the New York Times announced it will 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% mentioned the scenario for the media had deteriorated since the nationwide safety legislation was launched, and 46% mentioned they have been contemplating or had plans to depart the metropolis attributable to 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 atmosphere is shifting to grow to be extra much like the mainland.

In the future, Hong Kong may more and more discover itself in a scenario the place media coated the metropolis from the outdoors — simply as media do with mainland China, Freedom House’s Cook mentioned.

And, mentioned Tsui, the metropolis’s web may grow to be extra 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, impartial shops in Hong Kong may additionally undermine the press’ position as an essential group watchdog.

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

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

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

Since the National Security Law was launched, almost all of the metropolis’s main pro-democracy figures have both been jailed or gone into exile. Numerous organizations and unions have disbanded or left Hong Kong, together with the pro-democracy group that organized some of the city’s biggest protests. And the nationwide safety legislation is not merely a risk — some activists have now been jailed under 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 mentioned.

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

“It’s an obvious attempt to remove the memory of Hong Kong people,” mentioned 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 concentrating on the metropolis’s free and impartial 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 said 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 sort 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 mentioned. “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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