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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 employees and tried to strike an optimistic tone.

“Keep in mind our absolute best 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’s going to occur subsequent. Don’t fear. Simply bear in mind the completely happy issues.”

It was the day 90 largely pro-establishment legislators had been sworn in. The earlier night, the impartial Chinese language-language information outlet of 5 years mentioned it was closing. It justified the determination citing a deteriorating media surroundings and issues for the security of its employees.

It was a painful determination for Yeung and his editor-in-chief, Daisy Li, to make. “If I’m now not assured sufficient to information and lead my reporters, I have to be accountable,” Li mentioned 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 isn’t us however the exterior, goal surroundings.” On 4 January, one other outlet, Mad Canine Each day, adopted go well with and halted operations along with Citizen Information.

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 Photos/REX/Shutterstock

The newest developments got here as no shock to those that observe current occasions in Hong Kong’s once-freewheeling media business. An exodus of journalists and editors from the territory’s much-acclaimed information shops 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 had been charged with conspiring to publish seditious supplies and denied bail.

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The Stand Information arrests got here a day after Jimmy Lai, the former proprietor of the fashionable tabloid Apple Each day, and 6 of its former journalists got new costs 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 referred to as the newspaper a “rotten apple that plagued Hong Kong for 20 years”. Amnesty International mentioned it was “the blackest day for media freedom in Hong Kong’s current historical past”.

Throughout Asia, the erosion of press freedom has repeatedly made headlines in current years. In Myanmar, dozens of journalists have been jailed since final yr’s army coup. In Thailand, an emergency decree to ban information that “incites worry” 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 yr. These incidents are a poignant reminder that even the most profitable information shops 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 shops started shortly after Beijing imposed a controversial nationwide safety regulation in the summer season of 2020. The laws drew fierce criticisms from western capitals, from Washington to London. Hong Kong’s chief government, Carrie Lam, nevertheless, mentioned the closure of reports organisations “can’t be instantly related” 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 Each day saga. A number of days after the tabloid’s had folded final yr, the metropolis’s police chief, Raymond Siu, recommended {that a} “pretend information” laws could be essential to sort out “hostility towards the police”. His boss, Lam, introduced a couple of weeks prior that her administration was working on “pretend information” laws to sort out “misinformation, hatred and lies”.

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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 informed the Guardian after Siu’s speech in June. “It seems to be very doubtless that this proposal of ‘pretend information’ regulation can 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 pretend information laws.

The psychological influence on Hong Kong’s journalists – as soon as considered muckraking by many – is clear. A November survey launched by Hong Kong’s International Correspondents Membership discovered that 84% of the surveyed deemed the state of affairs 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,” mentioned Jemimah Steinfeld, a China professional at the London-based Index on Censorship. “It’s laborious to imagine at this time that till solely lately Hong Kong was the place that journalists at overseas 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 Each day’s headquarters in 2020, one in every of its employees reporter was offended. “I at first was too surprised to even react,” Oscar mentioned in a Guardian documentary that yr. “Then that was anger as I watched the occasions unfold.”

Final June, when the nails had been hammered into the coffin of Apple Each day, he met a colleague a the subway platform to share their plans for the future. They greeted one another with a giant hug and broke out in tears. “We have now by no means accomplished something incorrect. We have now at all times been doing our half and dealing laborious to make good information. Why did we find yourself this manner?” he mentioned.

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

The short flip of occasions in his residence metropolis in current years has saddened him. Months after mass road protests that started in 2019, the nationwide safety regulation got here into pressure. The authorities declare such laws is “essential 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 keeping with 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, a minimum of 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 Each day journalists maintain freshly-printed copies of the newspaper’s final version whereas acknowledging supporters gathered exterior their workplace in Hong Kong as the tabloid is pressured to shut. {Photograph}: Daniel Suen/AFP/Getty Photos

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 mentioned.

“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 isn’t solely native Chinese language-language information shops which can be feeling the chill. Worldwide information shops resembling the New York Occasions are already shifting their base to elsewhere in the area as a result of – in keeping 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 overseas information organisations, urging them to assist the authorities’ actions. “If you’re genuinely in press freedom, it is best to assist actions towards individuals who have unlawfully exploited the media as a software to pursue their political or private features,” Hong Kong’s chief secretary, John Lee, wrote to the Wall Avenue Journal in a current letter.

“Thus far, western media nonetheless operates with a level of safety however even that is eroding and plenty of at the moment are selecting Taiwan as an alternative,” noticed Steinfeld. “The query is: to what extent will they be pushed out or will they bounce? 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 properly needs.

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

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