A third group — five-year-old Citizen News — announced last week that it would also close. But unlike Apple Daily and Stand News, Citizen News didn’t wait for the police to knock on the door before closing the store.
“If we can’t continue to report the way we want and the way we feel safe, then, sadly, ceasing operations is the only option,” he said. Lead writer Chris Yeung said at a news conference on Monday.
In the 18 months since Beijing imposed sweeping national security laws on Hong Kong, the lines defining what content can still be published without breaking the law have become increasingly blurred. This makes it harder for journalists to understand what authorities consider acceptable and what could land them in prison for years.
That means Hong Kong – once one of Asia’s most active media venues and a place to claim freedom of speech and the press – has lost virtually all of its homegrown independent news outlets. And, while the government has denied claims that press freedom has been undermined, the future of independent reporting looks increasingly bleak.
“The government has created this climate of self-censorship and fear because there is now so much uncertainty about what is illegal or not, and what is inflammatory and non-inflammatory,” said a former journalism professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Lokman Tsui lives in the Netherlands.
“On the one hand, it’s a story about a lot of outlets being forced to close,” he said. “On the other hand, professional reporting in Hong Kong is so dangerous right now that you could end up in jail.”
Citizen News’ announcement wasn’t entirely unexpected.
Just a few days ago, Stand News shut down after police raided its offices and arrested seven people linked to the publication. ‘Fate of stand news’ triggers decision Yang, who is also a former chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said.
The charges against Position News involve “conspiracy to publish seditious publications,” stemming from colonial-era crime regulations rather than the 2020 national security law. The Hong Kong police who raided the exit office were national security officials.
Ultimately, Citizen News could not determine whether the stories it asked journalists to write violated the rules and chose to shut down to protect its staff, said Daisy Lee, editor-in-chief of the publication.
To many bystanders, the outlet was yet another casualty of the city’s increasingly restrictive media environment. Like Apple Daily and Stand News, Citizen News publishes articles critical of government policy.
Sarah Cook, director of research for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Freedom House, a nonprofit, said the rate at which the industry has been “destroyed” over the past two years has been staggering.
Then, in June, hundreds of police raided the offices of the long-running pro-democracy outlet Apple Daily. They arrested executives, froze their assets on national security charges — and eventually prompted them to stop publishing.
Lin played down his concerns. This week, she dismissed allegations that the shutdown of Citizen News and Position News was tied to the national security law, and dismissed the idea that press freedom in Hong Kong was facing a collapse. She claimed the outlets closed at their own discretion.
“Nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong. Journalists and media organisations like all of us must respect and obey the law,” she said on Tuesday. “If they are afraid of not being able to comply with the law, then they have to make up their minds and make the necessary decisions.”
what happens next
Despite Carrie Lam’s insistence that there is still press freedom in Hong Kong, the number of independent media outlets is dwindling rapidly.
While Hong Kong still has major international media organizations — including CNN and Bloomberg — running major newsrooms, there are few independent local media outlets, experts point to the Chinese version of inmediahk.net and the English version of Hong Kong Free Press. for example.
Joseph Cheng, a Hong Kong political commentator now based in New Zealand, said any independent media was expected to be targeted sooner or later.
Chen Rongsheng, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association and former editor of Stand News, agreed.
He said freedom of the press may continue on a small scale – but once the media gain too much attention and resources, they are likely to be targeted.
“The media is … cracking down hard,” Chen, whose home was raided by police, told CNN Business. “The chilling effect will affect many decisions in other media management.”
But the city’s media environment is shifting to be more similar to the mainland.
In the future, Hong Kong may be increasingly caught up in media coverage of the city from the outside — just as the media coverage of mainland China, said Freedom House’s Cook.
The city’s internet could be more restricted, Tsui said, and authorities could block access to articles it deems controversial.
why this matters
Experts also pointed out that the loss of local independent media in Hong Kong could also weaken the role of the press as an important community watchdog.
“This is consistent across all countries, all cultures – if local journalism dies, corruption will increase,” Xu said.
The problem for Hong Kong, however, is that this trend of local media shutdowns is combined with other attacks on democracy.
“The suppression of the democratic movement means intolerance of the opposition and intolerance of checks and balances,” Cheng said.
When Standpoint News and Apple Daily shut down, the two publications also removed years of coverage from the internet and took with them the city’s historical records.
“This is clearly an attempt to erase the memories of Hong Kong people,” Cheng said.
Hong Kong has long positioned itself as Asia’s world city, which also comes with a reputational cost.
Following the raid on Position News, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to stop targeting Hong Kong’s free and independent media and uphold freedom of speech and access to information.
“By suppressing independent media, [the People’s Republic of China] and local authorities undermining Hong Kong’s credibility and viability. A confident government that is not afraid of the truth embraces freedom of the press,” he added.
Despite the strict censorship in mainland China, Hong Kong is relatively free.This makes it a sort of gateway into the country, which is why so many businesses and media hubs are based in the city
But that is changing as Hong Kong gets closer to China.
“Now even this little peephole has become a black box,” Xu said. “The world is losing not just insight into Hong Kong, but insight into what’s going on in China.”
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