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‘We fought the good fight’: journalists in Hong Kong reel from assault on media | Hong Kong

As the final information programme got here to an in depth and anchors bade farewell to their on-line viewers on 3 January, Chris Yeung, the founder and chief author of Citizen Information, gathered collectively his workers and tried to strike an optimistic tone.

“Bear in mind our easiest recollections,” he said, dressed in a blue shirt with sleeves rolled up and a crimson jumper draped on his shoulders. “Nobody is aware of what is going to occur subsequent. Don’t fear. Simply keep in mind the comfortable issues.”

It was the day 90 largely pro-establishment legislators have been sworn in. The earlier night, the impartial Chinese language-language information outlet of 5 years stated it was closing. It justified the determination citing a deteriorating media setting and considerations for the security of its workers.

It was a painful determination for Yeung and his editor-in-chief, Daisy Li, to make. “If I’m not assured sufficient to information and lead my reporters, I have to be accountable,” Li stated final week. “Can we work on some ‘secure information’? I don’t even know what’s ‘secure information’.”

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She added: “What has modified just isn’t us however the exterior, goal setting.” On 4 January, one other outlet, Mad Canine Day by day, adopted swimsuit and halted operations along with Citizen Information.

Citizen News’s chief editor Daisy Li and its founder, the ex-president of Hong Kong Journalists Association, Chris Yeung, before a press conference on 3 January.
Citizen Information’s chief editor Daisy Li and its founder, the ex-president of Hong Kong Journalists Affiliation, Chris Yeung, earlier than a press convention on 3 January. {Photograph}: Alex Chan/SOPA Photographs/REX/Shutterstock

The most recent developments got here as no shock to those that comply with latest occasions in Hong Kong’s once-freewheeling media trade. An exodus of journalists and editors from the territory’s much-acclaimed information retailers resembling Cable TV and its public broadcaster, RTHK, in the final couple of years have alarmed free speech campaigners in the metropolis and past.

Barely every week in the past, one other Chinese language-language outlet, Stand Information, was pressured to shut after 200 cops raided its workplace and detained seven present and former workers. Two former senior editors have been charged with conspiring to publish seditious supplies and denied bail.

The Stand Information arrests got here a day after Jimmy Lai, the former proprietor of the in style tabloid Apple Day by day, and 6 of its former journalists got new fees of “conspiracy to ‘print, publish, promote, supply on the market, distribute, show and/or reproduce seditious publications”. Final June, the newspaper was pressured to shut. State media in Beijing known as the newspaper a “rotten apple that plagued Hong Kong for 20 years”. Amnesty International stated it was “the blackest day for media freedom in Hong Kong’s latest historical past”.

Throughout Asia, the erosion of press freedom has repeatedly made headlines in latest years. In Myanmar, dozens of journalists have been jailed since final 12 months’s army coup. In Thailand, an emergency decree to ban information that “incites concern” was introduced after anti-government protests in 2020. And in the Philippines, the nation’s most worthwhile broadcaster, ABS-CBN, was pressured to close down that very same 12 months. These incidents are a poignant reminder that even the most profitable information retailers wouldn’t survive the authoritarian resurgence in the area.

In Hong Kong – as soon as a bastion of free speech inside China’s territory – the intensified transfer towards impartial information retailers started shortly after Beijing imposed a controversial nationwide safety regulation in the summer time of 2020. The laws drew fierce criticisms from western capitals, from Washington to London. Hong Kong’s chief government, Carrie Lam, nonetheless, stated the closure of stories organisations “can’t be instantly linked” to press freedom in Hong Kong. She additionally rejected claims of a “chilling impact” in the metropolis’s media panorama.

The assault on press freedom have continued after the Apple Day by day saga. Just a few days after the tabloid’s had folded final 12 months, the metropolis’s police chief, Raymond Siu, prompt {that a} “faux information” laws can be essential to sort out “hostility towards the police”. His boss, Lam, introduced a number of weeks prior that her administration was working on “faux information” laws to sort out “misinformation, hatred and lies”.

Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam.
Hong Kong’s chief government Carrie Lam. {Photograph}: Vincent Yu/AP

“The authorities are simply including extra weapons into their pocket in order to stifle dissent,” Yeung instructed the Guardian after Siu’s speech in June. “It seems to be very probably that this proposal of ‘faux information’ regulation shall be put on the agenda in the subsequent legislative session.”

Lately, Hong Kong Journalists Affiliation, which Yeung used to guide, raised the authorities’ ire. Final autumn, the metropolis’s new safety chief, Chris Tang, accused the organisation of “breaching skilled ethics” by backing the concept that “everyone seems to be a journalist”. In December, Tang gave his full backing to the introduction of a faux information laws.

The psychological impression on Hong Kong’s journalists – as soon as thought to be muckraking by many – is clear. A November survey launched by Hong Kong’s International Correspondents Membership discovered that 84% of the surveyed deemed the scenario had deteriorated since the introduction of the nationwide safety regulation. A few of the respondents admitted a level of self-censorship. Beijing accused the commerce affiliation of “sowing discord”.

“We’re very nervous right here for the way forward for media freedom in Hong Kong,” stated Jemimah Steinfeld, a China knowledgeable at the London-based Index on Censorship. “It’s arduous to consider at present that till solely not too long ago Hong Kong was the place that journalists at international media went to in the event that they needed to report extra freely on China. It’s devastating.”

For younger and impressive Hong Kong journalists, the devastation has been private. When the police raided Apple Day by day’s headquarters in 2020, certainly one of its workers reporter was offended. “I at first was too surprised to even react,” Oscar stated in a Guardian documentary that 12 months. “Then that changed into anger as I watched the occasions unfold.”

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Final June, when the nails had been hammered into the coffin of Apple Day by day, he met a colleague a the subway platform to share their plans for the future. They greeted one another with an enormous hug and broke out in tears. “Now we have by no means carried out something improper. Now we have all the time been doing our half and dealing arduous to make good information. Why did we find yourself this manner?” he stated.

Now at the age of 25, Oscar has put down his pen and works as a photographer in Hong Kong. He stated he “grieved” upon leaving Apple Day by day in June. “I [had studied journalism] in school for 4 years, labored for Apple Day by day as part-timer then full-time [for] over 4 years. It was my dream and keenness to be an important reporter, and I did work arduous for it. However It turned out to be like this,” he stated.

The short flip of occasions in his house metropolis in latest years has saddened him. Months after mass avenue protests that started in 2019, the nationwide safety regulation got here into pressure. The authorities declare such laws is “needed in order to safe the long-term stability and prosperity of Hong Kong”, however critics say it’s used to stifle dissent and is “draconian”.

In actuality, there have been waves of arrests of people – from journalists to politicians – who disagree with Beijing and the Hong Kong governments. In response to Reporters With out Borders, shut to 2 dozen journalists and press freedom campaigners have been arrested since the implementation of the Nationwide Safety Legislation in June 2020. Amongst them, not less than a dozen have been charged or are awaiting the trial. Some opposition politicians – together with Nathan Legislation, as soon as the youngest lawmaker in the historical past of the legislative council of Hong Kong – at the moment are dwelling in exile.

Apple Daily journalists hold freshly-printed copies of the newspaper’s last edition while acknowledging supporters gathered outside their office in Hong Kong as the tabloid is forced to close.
Apple Day by day journalists maintain freshly-printed copies of the newspaper’s final version whereas acknowledging supporters gathered outdoors their workplace in Hong Kong as the tabloid is pressured to shut. {Photograph}: Daniel Suen/AFP/Getty Photographs

For Oscar, his transition from a reporter to a photographer was a reluctant one. “This isn’t the determination I needed to make, it’s the occasions that pressured me to cease being a reporter,” he stated.

“I nonetheless wish to be a reporter from the backside of my coronary heart. I’m not afraid to sit down in jail. However how about the individuals who work with me? Will they sit in, too, due to my work? How about my household and my girlfriend? They’d completely be heartbroken.”

However it’s not solely native Chinese language-language information retailers which might be feeling the chill. Worldwide information retailers resembling the New York Instances are already shifting their base to elsewhere in the area as a result of – in line with the US firm – the nationwide safety regulation “unsettled information organisations and created uncertainty about the metropolis’s prospects as a hub for journalism”.

Senior officers at the moment are sending letters to international information organisations, urging them to assist the authorities’ actions. “In case you are genuinely in press freedom, it is best to assist actions towards individuals who have unlawfully exploited the media as a instrument to pursue their political or private positive factors,” Hong Kong’s chief secretary, John Lee, wrote to the Wall Road Journal in a latest letter.

“To this point, western media nonetheless operates with a level of safety however even that is eroding and lots of at the moment are selecting Taiwan as a substitute,” noticed Steinfeld. “The query is: to what extent will they be pushed out or will they leap? Beijing has been killing the chickens to scare the monkeys, to cite the Chinese language idiom, and it’s actually working.”

At Citizen Information, departing journalists have been pondering on their future in these unsure occasions. On the eve of the closure, there have been tears in the newsroom in addition to nicely needs.

“We fought the good battle. We completed the course. We stored the religion,” one farewell card learn.

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