News outlet HK01 has hit back at the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) after the watchdog expressed concern over the outlet’s controversial decision to state its stance against Taiwanese independence in a news article.

The row came after HK01 expressly stated that it is “consistently opposed to Taiwan independence” in an interview with Taiwanese singer Freddy Lim, who is a legislator of the pro-independence New Power Party. The HK01 article, published last Saturday, discussed Lim’s views on music and politics.

hk01 freddy lim row
The controversial editorial note in HK01’s interview with Freddy Lim. Photo: HK01 screenshot.

Calling the outlet’s move to specify its political stance in an article as “unusual” and “unnecessary,” HKJA said in a statement issued on Sunday: “We worry that the editorial staff of HK01 did it because the relevant news article contains sensitive content and that they felt they need to state clearly their political stance on the article.”

“News reports are not commentaries. There is no need to express a journalist’s or news agency’s stance in a news report,” the watchdog said. “Doing so will give rise to worries that the media might have something to fear when they report sensitive issues.”

It urged HK01 to reconsider the practice of adding an editor’s note about its political stance in news reports.

‘Oversteps bounds’

In response, HK01 published an editorial Friday criticising the journalism watchdog of “making a big deal” out of the news report and “unacceptably overstepping its bounds by making unnecessary accusations.”

hk01 freddy lim row
HK01 editorial in response to the HKJA statement. Photo: HK01 screenshot.

“The fact that the interview piece has caused controversy meant that our handling was not good enough, and we will take the suggestions from our readers seriously. However, we do not think that we have breached any journalism ethics in terms of the content of the news report itself,” the editorial wrote.

“We do not please the powers that be or exercise self-censorship out of fear of political pressure. We also do not allow outsiders to interfere in our work based on ideological differences or political correctness,” it added. “HKJA staff should ask themselves whether they are really being fair as a watchdog.”

The outlet asked HKJA to “first exercise good self-discipline before disciplining others.”

After HK01 published its interview with Lim, the singer wrote on Facebook: “That editor’s note is quite amazing. In light of this, my Facebook page shall also make an editor’s note: ‘This page is consistently supportive of Taiwan independence.’”

Freddy Lim
Freddy Lim. Photo: Freddy Lim, via Facebook.

Lim is the lead singer of Chthonic, a popular Taiwanese heavy metal band which advocates independence for the island. The band was scheduled to perform at a concert in Hong Kong last Sunday, but was forced to cancel the show after failing to obtain visas in time.

The Hong Kong Immigration Department later said that it had rejected Lim’s visa application because he did not “possess a special skill, knowledge or experience of value.” However, the band had previously performed at the music festival Clockenflap in Hong Kong in 2014.

Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.