Media outlet HK01 has rejected concerns voiced by the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) that it was self-censoring its reports on recently-declassified UK files regarding the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.

Last Wednesday, the outlet published – then quickly removed – reports on telegrams sent by then-British ambassador Alan Donald, who notably cited a member of the Chinese State Council as speculating that 10,000 civilians were killed in the June 4 crackdown.

This file photo taken on June 4, 1989 shows Beijing residents gathering around the smoking remains of over 20 armoured personnel carriers burnt by demonstrators during clashes with soldiers near Tiananmen Square. Photo: Manny Ceneta/AFP.

HK01 republished the reports the same afternoon after making several changes. The HKJA said that the outlet’s behaviour was “suspicious,” and claimed that the following day’s reports on the declassified files had been pulled altogether.

This Wednesday evening, HK01 penned a rebuttal to the HKJA’s concerns. It attributed last week’s saga to mistakes – for which it apologised to the public – but not censorship.

“HK01’s editors did not fulfil their verification responsibilities, and under a relatively loose [editorial] environment, allowed unrefined reports to be published,” it wrote in an editorial. “In particular, our reporter mistakenly treated intelligence records as authoritative documents.”

“When we discovered the problem, we quickly took down the reports for editing without properly accounting for the reasons – this was also lacking in maturity.”

‘Interfering with editorial independence’

HK01 went on to criticise the HKJA for its treatment of the incident, claiming that the watchdog’s statements interfered with its editorial independence.

A Tiananmen massacre vigi lin Hong Kong in June, 2017. Photo: Catherine Lai.

The outlet denied that it republished the articles only after pressure from its newsroom staff, saying that it put them back online in the shortest time possible.

It added that it was planning to publish its remaining reports on the declassified UK files in May 2018 – before the 29th anniversary of the massacre.

“Seeking the truth – and not making irresponsible remarks – is the media’s basic responsibility. The association representing journalists has raised eyebrows in handling this incident so roughly.”

See also: Journalists’ Association ‘extremely concerned’ over news site HK01’s handling of Tiananmen reports

“HK01 has a clear position on the June 4 Incident that does not require any masking or satisfaction of anyone’s so-called ‘political censorship.”

“We believe that the Chinese Communist Party committed a serious mistake. [It] should vindicate the incident so as to do justice to the dead and wounded patriotic masses and students, and compensate the survivors and the relatives of the dead as much as possible.”

HK01 was founded by Hong Kong businessman and former Ming Pao owner Yu Pun-hoi in early 2016 amid a blaze of publicity, employing several hundred staff.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.