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

A third organization — the five-year-old Citizen News — announced last week that it would shut down, too. But unlike Apple Daily and Stand News, Citizen News didn’t wait for police to come knocking before closing shop.

“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 writer Chris Yeung said during a press conference Monday.

In the 18 months since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, the line defining what can still be published without breaking the law has become increasingly blurred. That’s made it all the more difficult for journalists to know what the authorities consider acceptable, and what could land them in prison for years.

That means Hong Kong — once home to one of Asia’s most vibrant media scenes, and a place that professes freedom of speech and freedom of the press — has lost almost all its homegrown independent news outlets. And, while the government has dismissed the idea that press freedom has been undermined, the future of independent reporting looks increasingly 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,” said 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 said. “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 lines

Citizen News’ announcement didn’t come entirely out of the blue.

Just days earlier, Stand News shut down after police raided its office and arrested seven people associated with the publication. The “fate of Stand News” triggered the decision by Citizen News, according to Yeung, who is also the former chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

The allegations against Stand News involve a “conspiracy to publish seditious publications,” which stems from a colonial-era crimes ordinance and not the national security law imposed in 2020. The Hong josKong police who raided the outlet’s office are national security officers.

Ultimately, Citizen News couldn’t be sure whether the stories it was asking reporters to write would violate regulations, and opted to shut to protect its staff, said 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 yet another casualty of the city’s increasingly restrictive media environment. Like Apple Daily and Stand News, Citizen News published articles critical of government policies.

The speed with which the industry has been “gutted” over the past two years is really dramatic, according to Sarah Cook, research director for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at non-profit Freedom House.

Nearly a year ago, the Hong Kong government announced it would replace the director of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) with a public servant without any media experience. RTHK’s program staff union responded by saying the station had lost its editorial…

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