According to both Beijing and Hong Kong officials, freedom of the press has survived unscathed since the national security law came into force in June 2020. But prominent independent outlets have shut down one after another and journalists have been detained on national security and sedition charges.
The International Federation of Journalists says Hong Kong’s press freedom has entered its “end game.”
A number of independent media outlets have folded – notably Apple Daily last June and Stand News in December following a police raid and the arrest of staff. The list of closed platforms also includes Citizen News, which cited unclear “legal boundaries” and concerns about staff safety.
But a number of small-scale local Chinese-language outlets are still telling the stories of Hong Kong in an independent voice.
“[A]lthough the environment changed, most of us have remained in our position and try our best to find the truth for the Hong Kong community,” said Ronson Chan, chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, when he accepted the Freedom of the Press Asia award on behalf of Hong Kong journalists from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Wednesday.
Founded by “a small group of former Apple Daily employees” on July 21 last year, Channel C HK has won more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube, over 185,000 Instagram followers and nearly 80,000 likes on Facebook in just nine months.
The media outlet said the “C” in its name stands for “City, Crime, Culture” and it mainly covers social news and buzz topics. In February Ronson Chan joined Channel C after his previous employer – Stand News – ceased operations.
Journalist Kwan Chun-hoi founded the outlet in July 2019 amid the anti-extradition bill protests and unrest, with a focus on detailed and coherent feature stories about the city.
Hong Kong Feature had a physical bookstore at Mongkok which doubled as its offices until it closed on January 23. Early this year the outlet announced its transition to a subscription-based model and started publishing a monthly magazine for paying readers.
The Photographic Society Hong Kong (PSHK) was also established in July 2019 in the midst of the citywide protests. It specialises in photojournalism and video production while also covering daily news.
Readers can support its operations by becoming a monthly subscriber on Patreon or purchasing its merchandise. It also offers commercial photography and video services.
Lam Yin-pong, a reporter and then an assignment editor at Stand News, set up his “one-man-band” platform ReNews on Facebook and Instagram on April 19.
In a launch statement, Lam said that while the content would centre on news, he would also occasionally publish interviews and feature stories. He said he hoped that via his platform, readers could “simply and directly grasp the change in the city, the context behind it, and most crucially, how to understand the tides behind current issues.”
A group of former employees from Apple Daily’s supplement section founded the platform Mill Milk on October 13 last year. They produce community feature stories as well as different entertainment shows and publish daily on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
As of April, the outlet had over 300,000 subscribers on YouTube. The channel ranked seventh in Hong Kong’s “Top 10 Breakout Creators” on the video sharing platform in 2021.
Rice Zi was set up last July by another team of former Apple Daily supplement creators. It specialises in community news, feature stories and interviews while also producing content on food and drink.
Its YouTube channel topped the “Top 10 Breakout Creators” chart in 2021 and had over 230,000 subscribers as of April.
United Social Press was established in 2013 but ceased operations in 2017. After the anti-extradition protests broke out in June 2019, it resumed reporting with a focus on photography and video coverage of the social movement.
According to its statement in October, 2019, the outlet was formed by a group of freelance photographers and has never received donations in any form or crowd-funding.
Run by a group of volunteer reporters, photographers and journalists, the non-profit media outlet covers local and international news, mainly on its Instagram account.
Variant was founded in mid-May 2020, seeking to “uncover more stories that are not in the spotlight.”
Publishing on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, The End Day tells the stories of mostly small business owners driven by a mission.
Its staff are former employees of different publications grouped under Next Digital Limited, the parent company of Apple Daily.
The Facebook page “Hong Kong Social Reality” (香港 • 社實) started in May 2020 to publish daily social news and sometimes live coverage of incidents.
Founded in 2004 ahead of the World Trade Organization protests in Hong Kong, InMedia is the only truly independent Chinese news outlet still producing daily news. It is backed by reader contributions.
Aside from joining existing outlets or creating new information platforms, some local journalists chose to publish through their own social media accounts.
Examples include Alvin Chan, a former principal reporter with Apple Daily’s interviews team who now focuses on court reporting and daily news; Leung Ka-lai, another ex-Apple Daily journalist who mainly tells the stories of 2019 protesters released from prison or facing trial; and Ingrid Tse, who started publishing original reports after experiencing first-hand the mass resignations at iCable and the shutdown of Apple Daily and Citizen News.
The list goes on. Citizen reporter Siu Wan, who carried on posting after he was arrested under the sedition law on suspicion of causing nuisance during court hearings; Grace Chan, who started her project to interview 100 Hongkongers after the demise of Citizen News; and many other journalists who have pressed on independently.
“[I] have only walked the path as a journalist for few years, [I] have to carry on with what I like.” Tse wrote on her Facebook page.