Hong Kong’s third-largest news company closes as media fears grow
Hong Kong-based CitizenNews reporters denounced plummeting press freedoms when they closed on Monday, saying they no longer felt safe publishing after staff at rival media outlet arrested on charges of “sedition” .
One of the most popular online media in Hong Kong with more than 800,000 social media subscribers, CitizenNews is the third outlet to shut down as Beijing oversees a sweeping crackdown on dissent.
The crowdfunding non-partisan platform, founded in 2017 by a group of senior journalists, made its surprise closure announcement on Sunday and said its website will stop updating from midnight Tuesday.
On their last day of operation, reporters made it clear that their decision was prompted by fears over a police raid last week on Stand News.
“We have done our best not to break any laws, but we can no longer see law enforcement guidelines clearly and we can no longer feel safe at work,” CitizenNews co-founder Chris Yeung , former chairman of Hong Kong Journalists. Association, told reporters.
“Journalists are also human beings with families and friends,” he added.
Yeung said their newsroom had not been contacted by law enforcement, but decided to shut down due to what they saw happening to the media.
“Can we work on ‘safe information’? I don’t even know what ‘safe information’ is,” editor-in-chief Daisy Li, also former president of the HKJA, told reporters.
– ‘Deeply saddened’ –
Hong Kong has long been a regional and international media hub, even as the city’s press freedom rankings have steadily declined over the past decade.
But over the past 18 months unprecedented changes have swept through the industry, primarily targeting local media.
The outspoken Apple Daily tabloid collapsed last year after its assets were frozen and key executives were arrested under a new national security law for the content it posted.
Stand News closed its doors last week after the arrest of seven current and former members.
The company, its co-founder Chung Pui-kuen and the last editor-in-chief Patrick Lam were charged with “conspiracy to publish seditious publications” and were denied bail.
With a few exceptions, the remaining local media increasingly followed the official line as new government appointees transformed public broadcaster RTHK into something more like Chinese state media.
Many international media still have their Asian headquarters in Hong Kong, including AFP, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Economist, and the Financial Times.
Others, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, have moved or opened new offices in Asia in South Korea due to the political situation in Hong Kong.
Last month, the Hong Kong administration threatened legal action against the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times for editorials criticizing government policies.
The HKJA said on Monday it was “deeply saddened and sorry” to learn of the closure of CitizenNews.
“Known as the global city of Asia, the free flow of information and freedom of the press are essential for Hong Kong,” the group wrote.
su / jta / qan