Hong Kong’s free press is on the verge of extinction after the two largest remaining independent news websites in the Chinese territory announced they would close within a week.
Citizen News, an online news website set up in 2017, said it would suspend operations on Tuesday, citing security issues for its reporters. The decision, which will further reduce the once free-running and aggressive Hong Kong press corps, was announced after pro-democracy publication Stand News closed last Wednesday.
Stand News was overrun by police and a number of journalists and former directors were arrested for allegedly publishing “inflammatory” material.
Chris Yeung, Citizen News editor-in-chief, said the move to stop publishing was “spurred” by the arrests at Stand News. “Those who are seen as critics or troublemakers, they are more vulnerable,” he said.
Citizen News editor-in-chief Daisy Li added that they “can no longer say with certainty” that could violate a security law imposed by Beijing on the city in 2020.
Lokman Tsui, a former assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said many of his students are now unemployed. “For the world city that Hong Kong wants to be, it is a sad state of affairs. We used to have a very robust press in Hong Kong, and it’s hard to say that it’s free and robust at this point.
“It is part of this larger project. . . of the dismantling of the critical independent press in Hong Kong. [The government] chased away all the critical outlets and pushed to shut down. ”
The National Security Act, introduced after widespread pro-democracy protests in 2019, has led to a repression of civil society, with more than 50 such groups closing in and arresting opposition figures.
The repression also flourished in the local media. Apple Daily, the city’s largest pro-democracy newspaper, closed in June last year after 26 years. Its assets were frozen by authorities and senior management, including founder Jimmy Lai, was arrested.
Citizen News is staffed by about 40 journalists, many of whom have recently joined the company. The shutdown leaves the English-language news website Hong Kong Free Press and Chinese-language inmediahk.net as the last major independent news outlets in the city.
A former Stand News journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, asked: “Why has the city deteriorated so rapidly for the state that even normal media are not allowed to exist?”
But John Lee, general secretary of administration and the area’s second most senior official, said last week that media that endangered national security were “bad apples” and “evil elements that harm press freedom”.
Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies based in Beijing, maintained that there would be “more room” for critical reporting on the government. “I do not think the local media landscape will become[monotonous]. . . after a few outlets ‘played safely’ and [closed down]. ”
Keith Richburg, president of the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club, said the space for independent media to work in Hong Kong had shrunk, with many questioning whether there was still room for critical reporting in the city. “A vibrant society and good government depend on a critical press that questions policy,” he added.