Hong Kong Free Press celebrates six years online today, thanks to the backing of almost 900 monthly Patrons and countless one-off contributors. Throughout that time, we have published nearly 20,000 articles, raised millions of dollars to safeguard our independence, trained over 20 journalists and – last year – we adopted an Ethics Code and quadrupled our original reporting.
Despite operating on a shoestring with half a dozen staff, the city’s first crowdfunded media outlet has grown into an award-winning, internationally-recognised platform showcasing a mix of features, impartial reporting, exclusive interviews, opinion and multimedia stories.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to raise a toast following what has been a brutal year for the media industry in Hong Kong. The public broadcaster RTHK is under fire every week, commentators have been arrested for speech, StandNews has reined in its coverage and last week saw the unwelcome demise of the city’s largest-circulation print paper – Apple Daily – following a raid. Its closure represented a significant blow to Hong Kong’s media landscape and resulted in hundreds of job losses.
HKFP has long been raising the alarm over press freedom – in fact, we were founded in 2015 as a response to the declining situation. However, we disagree with reports and analysts claiming press freedom is now “dead.” My staff and I are among several independent outlets that are still around. We are getting on with work, and we are staying put.
Press freedom is enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – it is on this basis that we operate. Press freedom is also guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and the security law, which will be a year old tomorrow. These things, however, may not be of much reassurance when the security legislation involves “red lines” which – whatever the authorities may say – remain very unclear. But as much as it is difficult to ignore the existence of such legislation, we have never censored our news reporting.
There is a giant red digital clock in our office counting down the seconds, minutes, hours and days to 2047, when Hong Kong’s autonomy is set to expire. There have often been jokes about resetting it to count up from June 30 last year when the security law was enacted and many wrote eulogies for the city. But we have never interfered with the countdown because we come to work each day with faith that there remains enough of a Free Press in Hong Kong to operate a newsroom bearing that very name.
No-one could have predicted that – a year on from the security law’s enactment – Hong Kong would have no more July 1 democracy march, Tiananmen Massacre vigil or Apple Daily. And, on the eve of the law’s second anniversary a year from now, we cannot predict as to whether there will be enough breathing room to continue normal journalistic work. But – for the foreseeable future – our team are completely committed and on the same page when it comes to carrying on, remaining professional and getting the news out.
This does not mean we are naïve when it comes to staff safety, protecting sources and ensuring security. But the things that guide our work are our governing Ethics Code and the journalistic tradition in which we’ve been trained. Our main concerns day-to-day are ensuring impartiality and precision in our writing, and accuracy in our sourcing. For our team, the facts are all that matter – this is our bottom line – no matter which side of the political spectrum finds the truth uncomfortable.
As we enter our seventh year, we wish to thank everyone for their readership and contributions. We love Hong Kong and – with your support – we will persist in reporting from the ground.
And though the future looks uncertain, they say that the way to safeguard the free press is to publish. The HKFP team will continue to publish.
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