Pro-democracy digital news outlet Stand News has announced it will remove opinion articles and columns it published before May and stop accepting donations in order to reduce risks under the national security law. The move comes following a report of anonymous threats to some media outlets.
The reader-funded Stand News announced on Sunday evening that it would remove all articles published by its regular contributors and columnists and other opinion articles published before May. The blog carried scores of articles by news and political commentators in the city.
The developments came after the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper and some other independent news outlets in the city were reportedly sent anonymous messages over the past few days containing threats and full lists of their full and part-time staff.
Pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily stopped printing last Thursday after 26 years in a dramatic shutdown after five of its executives and an editorial writer were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to collude with foreign forces to endanger national security. Another editorial writer was arrested on Sunday evening at the airport.
Authorities also froze HK$18 million in funds from the newspaper’s parent companies, making it impossible to pay wages.
Stand News, an independent online media outlet founded in 2014, has mainly focused on political and court news in the wake of the 2019 protests.
To avoid further financial losses should its accounts be frozen, the media outlet said it would stop accepting new donations and suspend payments from regular donors. It has enough resources to operate for the next nine to 12 months, the company said.
Six of its company directors including democrat Margaret Ng and pro-democracy celebrity Denise Ho have stepped down on company advice, leaving Editor-in-Chief Chung Pui-kuen and co-founder Choi Tung-ho at the helm.
The company also terminated the employment contracts of staff who had been with the company for over six months in order to clear their bonuses, and re-employed most of them under a new contract in May.
Apple Daily and some other independent news outlets had received threatening anonymous messages in the past few days, veteran independent journalist Oiwan Lam said on her Patreon page. One she saw contained a full list of directors and staffers of the company concerned, including those working part-time.
“While it is comparatively easy to dig up the list of a company’s board of directors through the company registry, to obtain the list of a company’s staff members, one needs to get access to either the tax authorities or the Mandatory Provident Fund,” Lam wrote, referring to Hong Kong’s employees’ pension scheme.
“I believe Stand News took the risk control measures against such threats – to minimize the collateral damage to individuals and the financial loss once the security police takes action against it,” Lam added.
In response to the changes at Stand News, the Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement: “That yet another media restricts its operations under the national security law reflects that Hong Kong’s news industry is facing increasingly severe circumstances. Hongkongers are entitled to the right to freedom of the press and of expression under the Basic Law. HKJA urges the government to take the lead in defending such rights.”