Former members of Hong Kong’s once-free press corps are launching their own outlets aimed at covering the city from overseas, from a pro-democracy perspective.
While the implementation of a draconian national security law since 1st of July2020 has ushered in a crackdown on pro-democracy media organisations, activists and politicians in Hong Kong, with many journalists already joining the steady stream of people leaving their homes to seek a less restricted life elsewhere.
The Chaser, a Chinese-language news site, was established “to preserve press freedom, uphold democracy and human rights, and serve Hong Kongers around the world,” according to its Patreon page.
He cited the recent forced closure of Jimmy Lai’s Next Digital media empire, including the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, as well as the closure of Stand News and Citizen News, and the “rectification” of iCable information and the government broadcaster RTHK to bring them closer to the official line of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“Any remaining independent outlets are struggling to gain support and risk being banned at any moment,” The Chaser said. “Our news platform hopes to provide readers with the most authentic and in-depth reporting, without red lines or official censorship, by recruiting quality, independent professional journalists, and strives to uphold the position of press freedom Hong Kong media.”
The outlet aims to become the biggest source of information for Hong Kongers in exile, while continuing to serve those who remain in the city, he said.
Since its inception six weeks ago, The Chaser has filed daily news on Hong Kong, Taiwanese and international affairs, released exclusive investigative reports and kept overseas Hong Kongers in touch with each other. .
Another media platform – Commons – was launched by Hong Kongers based in democratic Taiwan, although its editorial team was reluctant to report due to security concerns for those left behind in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kongers in Hong Kong, including some who want to emigrate overseas, are very curious about the lives of Hong Kongers overseas and want to know everything about them,” Commons’ editor-in-chief told RFA. , giving only the pseudonym A. Mouk.
Commons focuses on in-depth interviews and all of its content is free to read online, unlike The Chaser, which requires a subscription through Patreon.
“The environment in Hong Kong is no longer conducive to journalism, so I wondered if there could be opportunities and a more suitable environment overseas, to create media for Hong Kongers overseas.” , did he declare.
Commons currently employs around 8-10 people, along with freelancers in Canada and the UK, to track newcomer communities in Hong Kong.
“Now that Stand News and Citizen News are gone, there is an even bigger gap and an even bigger need among Hong Kong people,” A Muk said. “We thought we should try to use our environment and our platform to report news from abroad, to see if we can fill this gap, to meet the demand for information from Hong Kong people.”
New media platforms like Commons and The Chaser may also provide limited opportunities for Hong Kong’s growing diaspora community of former journalists.
When Stand News shut down on December 29, 2021 under threat of investigation by the National Security Police, it was reporter Lam Yin-bong who turned off all the lights in the office for the last time.
Lam said he had been extremely reluctant to leave the building.
“It felt like it was all over and, even though we expected it, that night, we really didn’t want to leave,” Lam said. “We knew that from that day on, nothing would be like before.”
“I still have nostalgia for that time, but I also know that nostalgia is pretty useless and not worth clinging to,” said Lam, whose 10-year career as a journalist stretched is over overnight.
A way of living’
He described being deprived of his professional identity and way of life, which he had enjoyed for 10 years.
“It wasn’t just a job, it was a way of life, but suddenly that way of life is completely gone. It’s a horrible feeling,” Lam said.
What Lam finds harder than losing his own job is a more widespread silence emanating from Hong Kong’s once-crowded media landscape.
He was stunned to find that borders with the rest of mainland China were also rapidly blurring, citing the construction of a new bridge with neighboring Shenzhen and a makeshift mainland Chinese-style hospital staffed by mainland Chinese staff. under emergency rules in March.
“It was a huge development. Suddenly there’s this bridge between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and extraterritorial powers not regulated by Hong Kong laws,” Lam said. “Why didn’t anyone care about this story?”
“I thought maybe the world needed this information, and maybe I could still do my part…to remind people of what’s going on in Hong Kong,” he said.
Lam’s “bit” came in the form of his “ReNews” blog, which describes itself as a “one-on-one news platform founded by an unemployed journalist.”
He hopes to at least use it to chronicle the death of the Hong Kong he experienced.
“People often say Hong Kong is dead or dying,” Lam said. “So people who live here should know how he died and what the process involved.”
“Even if you can’t change it, at least you know,” said Lam, who offers all of his content for free, although paid subscriptions are available.
Free Fall Freedom Ranking
Lam made the risky decision to stay in Hong Kong while he chronicles the process, with his Facebook page amassing more than 26,000 followers in the first few days.
“It’s important to do everything myself, and for me to be responsible for everything, and not have to worry about anyone else,” Lam said. “So if something goes wrong, it’s on me. I don’t have to worry about writing a risky piece and my boss might go to jail for it.”
Hong Kong recently fell from 80th to 148th place in the 2022 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index, with the closures of Apple Daily and Stand News cited as one of the main factors. .
More than 800 Hong Kong journalists lost their jobs at the two outlets, forcing most to seek work outside the industry, many far from Hong Kong.
“They were all going out [jobhunting] all at once, and there weren’t enough vacancies for them,” former Stand deputy editor Ronson Chan, who currently chairs the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), told RFA. ).
Chan, who recently started working for another new outlet, Channel C HK, founded by a former Apple Daily reporter, said he was one of the lucky few who managed to find a job in industry.
“Some of them started online clothing stores, selling clothes online; some still get video or photography jobs, but not news-related, and some work as editors. [in marketing and advertising]“, said Chan.
But those who wish to emigrate find the language barrier and lack of familiarity with their home country major hurdles when seeking similar work abroad.
Research by the HKJA found that former members of the press turned to taxi driving, McDonalds, public relations and catering to make ends meet.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.