Letter from the Editor

Dear readers and supporters,

The HKFP newsroom pressed on in 2022, expanding to a team of eight and investing heavily in video and photography. We covered the Covid-19 pandemic, court wranglings, the ongoing security law crackdown and the inauguration of John Lee during the city’s 25th Handover anniversary.

The year also saw many sound the death knell for press freedom, with the demise of several more news outlets, journalists behind bars, and the city nosediving in global free expression rankings.

With 1,000 journalists out of work, the pessimism is understandable – though, at the same time, there remains some space for local news reporting. With our impartial stancetransparent funding, and balanced coverage guided by an Ethics Code and Corrections Policy, our dedicated team have sought to seize the remaining space and are continuing to weather the storm. And with the closure of Citizen News and Factwire last year, it has become all the more important to persist with our on-the-ground reporting, to ask tough questions, and to safeguard and maintain our archive as the first draft of history.

As Lee took the leadership reins in 2022, he claimed press freedom was already “in our pocket” as he urged the media to tell “good Hong Kong stories.” But as much as we love the city, it is not our job – nor is it within the journalistic tradition – to tell fluffy PR stories on behalf of the authorities. We will continue to do our duty and cover the good, bad and ugly sides of local life, whilst ensuring staff safety, protecting sources, and trying our best to navigate unclear legal realities.

In 2023, Hong Kong is reopening as the pandemic subsides. Our team will be monitoring the city’s recovery and seeing whether the government will allow the return of mass protests during key anniversaries. The trial of the 47 democrats will finally begin, and we will also be watching several events relating to press freedom: the Stand News and Apple Daily trials, as well as the legislation of the Article 23 security law, “fake news” law and crowdfunding regulation. Aside from further investing in video and photography, we will also be launching a podcast this year.

With another no doubt bumpy year ahead, I present our Annual Report, as we round-up our best coverage, achievements, and our accounts from the past 12 months. Our work is only possible thanks to regular contributions from our monthly Patrons. Hopefully, with your kind readership and support, there will be many Annual Reports to come!

This year’s Annual Report is dedicated to the late Suzanne Pepper – highly respected academic and HKFP columnist.

Our Mission & Impact

Founded in 2015, Hong Kong Free Press is an impartial, non-profit, award-winning English-language newspaper. Run by journalists, backed by readers and completely independent, HKFP is governed by a public code of ethics.

Best of HKFP 2022

Original features: The beginning of the year was dominated by surging Covid-19 infections as the Omicron variant escaped strict border controls and sent Hong Kong’s coronavirus death rate soaring to become the highest in the world. We documented the collapse of the health care system, as frontline doctors slammed the zero-Covid policy for putting politics before public health.

We also covered the many ways the outbreak exposed social injustice: from domestic workers who were left to sleep on the streets after contracting the virus, to those forced to isolate in substandard housing, where infections spread among family members, and refugees who had little to eat as panic buying cleared supermarket shelves.

Strict Covid rules contributed to a mass exodus from the city, exacerbated by shrinking freedoms since the implementation of the national security law. HKFP spoke to Hongkongers who had decided to leave the city for the second time, and to someone hoping to find new homes for once-cherished items that had been forsaken.

We also spent time with people who have opted to stay in the city. Some turned to New Age practices and therapies to make sense of an uncertain world, while others returned to the land to cultivate a sense of identity. Meanwhile, across the city, independent bookstores thrived – offering readers a welcome space for freedom of thought.

After being postponed because of the pandemic, former top police officer and security chief John Lee was selected by a small circle of proven “patriotic” elites to become the city’s next leader in May, after running uncontested. We examined the voting process, recently overhauled by Beijing, and Lee himself – in his own words

As Victoria Park remained empty on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, we looked into how Hongkongers were silenced after three decades of vigils, and how some remained committed to the commemoration amid a heavy police presence.  

Then, as the city marked 25 years since its Handover from Britain in July with a visit from China’s Xi Jinping,  we delved into what the milestone meant for Hong Kong. We tracked how protests on the July 1 anniversary – traditionally a day for Hongkongers to take their diverse demands to the streets – fell silent. We also used data to explore how the city had transformed, and spoke with migrant worker activists for whom little had changed – they continue to fight for the same rights today as before 1997.

Our reporting on workers’ rights issues included how migrant domestic workers arriving in the city fell victim to complex and continuously evolving Covid-19 rules, whilst advocates pushed for fair treatment from employers. Exploitation remains rife for domestic workers in Hong Kong – we investigated the hurdles many face, including an unforgiving screening process to grant legal recognition.

Through our reporting on underrepresented communities, we spent time with two passionate “voguers” as they prepared for a ball, and spoke to trans teenagers deemed too young to receive gender-affirming treatments at Hong Kong public hospitals. We examined the city’s conservative approach to beauty with model and singer Lezlie Chan, and heard the experiences of a trio of ethnic minority queer teenagers. We also caught up with the asexual community, who are seeking a voice in the LGBT+ community.

We also listened as ethnic minority groups shared their stories and struggles on an audio-guided tour of Hong Kong, and were there for the reopening of the recently renovated Khalsa Diwan temple, a focal point for the city’s Sikhs.

In a year that saw the July become Hong Kong’s hottest month ever, we looked at environmental issues such as how aggressive, government-backed development helped hasten the disappearance of the Chinese white dolphin population. City officials were absent from the UN climate conference COP27 in Egypt, but a delegation of young Hongkongers was present to sound the alarm.  

Government-backed development projects also led to the demise of some decades-old companies. We spoke to the owners of the city’s last sawmill, which was forced to close to make way for the Northern Metropolis, and an ice factory, whose site was earmarked for a public housing project

There were those trying to breathe new life into long-standing businesses, though. Administrators of social media accounts committed to conserving historical shops shared their journeys from online preservation to community activation

Three years on from the pro-democracy protests that wracked the city in 2019, a number of those who participated in the demonstrations remain in custody. We documented the groups that exist to offer them, and their families, material and practical support, and listened as former protesters reflected on their life behind bars, and after prison

In 2022 our newsroom made new investments in court reporting, data journalism and video. During the year, we produced 36 fully-fledged features, 17 interviews, 120 opinion pieces, as well as 45 special stories on the 25th anniversary of the Handover. In all, HKFP has published over 1,723 stories on the national security law, and over 1,905 on Covid-19.

When widespread protests erupted in mainland China over strict zero-Covid policies, with some crowds calling for greater freedoms, we delved into what had caused them and why blank sheets of A4 paper came to symbolise the short-lived movement. We were also out in full force covering the solidarity rallies in Hong Kong’s central business district and at university campuses across the city.

Our features this year also spanned the Taiwan Strait, with reporting on the plight of migrant workers on the island, how people in Taipei were prepping for the unthinkable amid threats of invasion by Beijing, and an exhibition exploring the afterlife of East and Southeast Asia that captured Taiwanese imaginations.  

Explanatory reporting: We continued our monthly explainers on the impact of the national security law on the city, and explored how official attitudes to Covid-19 evolved during the deadly fifth wave as part of our “shifting narratives” series.

Our timeline documenting the decline of press freedom in the city unfortunately saw regular updates. But all is not lost, as our explainer on the small Chinese-language outlets that persevere showed. 

We wrote explainers on political developments, including ill-fated bills that were resurrected in the absence of any opposition, how voter demographics changed since Beijing’s electoral overhaul, and John Lee’s first 100 days in office. And we also sought to clarify complex legal issues with an informative look at Hong Kong’s sedition law, a colonial relic revived after half a century, as well as the important features of court reporting such as the limits placed on what can be written or broadcast

Hong Kong’s byzantine Covid-19 rules gave us plenty of fodder for guides and explainers. We spelled out entry requirements, Vaccine Pass rules, and the restrictions that remain in place

We also fully embraced data reporting as part of our expansion, digging into the numbers to understand how to measure Hong Kong’s mass exodus, what happened to the 2019 protesters, and 1,000 days of Covid in the city

Interviews: In 2022, we spent time with the League of Social Democrats, one of the last remaining pro-democracy groups active in the city, who spoke about their commitment to speaking out against the government. We also interviewed American lawyer Samuel Bickett, who was deported from the city after spending time in jail for assaulting a police officer – a charge he believed was politically motivated. 

We spoke to the founder of an independent publisher, Raymond Yeung, in the days before he was jailed for nine-months over an illegal assembly. Yeung, formerly a teacher who was partially blinded by a police projectile during a protest in 2019, turned to publishing.  

At the other end of the political spectrum, we sat down with government advisor Ronny Tong, who asserted that the outlook for the city – and for a more democratic form of governance – looked promising. 

We met a number of artists learning to navigate curbs to creativity under the current political climate, including font designer Roy Chan, illustrator Maoshan Connie, and Teresa Chan, who works with the unusual medium of fallen leaves.  

And we joined ex-head of the Hong Kong Observatory Lam Chiu-ying – an advocate of living without air-conditioning – as he visited residents of subdivided flats during the summer. 

Scoops: Using satellite imagery, we exposed how construction of a temporary bridge connecting Hong Kong to mainland China began days before emergency laws were invoked to allow it to be built.

We also revealed that a rule requiring government employees to swear allegiance to Hong Kong had been expanded to foreigners teaching English at some local schools. Declining to do so would put their jobs at risk. 

And we investigated the introduction of a registration system to access titles in the University of Hong Kong’s Special Collections. Though the update to archival processes met international norms, what was included in the protected selection did not

HKFP’s award-winning journalism:

  • 2016 Human rights Press Award: Merit for Medhavi Arora for reporting on sexual harassment.
  • 2019 Human Rights Press Award: David Missal for video on rights lawyer Lin Qilei.
  • 2020 SOPA Award: Honourable Mention for Kris Cheng for explanatory reporting on the protests.
  • 2020 SOPA Award: Finalist for May James for protest photography.
  • 2021 SOPA Award: Honourable Mention for Steve Vines for opinion writing on the protests.
  • 2021 Nobel Peace Prize nomination: For safeguarding press freedom.

2022 Achievements

HKFP secures Google grant: HKFP won backing from Google’s News Equity Fund in recognition of its original reporting on the city’s underrepresented communities. The sum of HK$105,615 was largely earmarked for new multimedia gear and marketing for a fundraising campaign. HKFP was among 450 newsrooms across 52 countries and territories that received backing to “further empower a diverse news ecosystem.”

Video: HKFP finally made a foray into video in 2022 as we hired our first multimedia journalist. We produced a video explainer on Hong Kong’s new era of film censorship and a data-based visual explainer on the security law. We launched the HKFP drone to assess the state of local beaches, and met some activists trying to clear up the trash. Among the local news events our videographer covered were the Tiananmen anniversary police crackdown, the “blank placard” demos against Covid rules, and local tributes to the late ex-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. Aside from video interviews with the ex-Observatory chief, government official Ronny Tong and the League of Social Democrats, we produced mini-documentaries on Hong Kong’s first queer graduation, on the ex-reporters launching a bookshop, childhood memories of a dairy farm, the city’s “voguing” scene and a plus-sized model.

The Guardian affiliation: 2022 saw HKFP partner with British broadsheet the Guardian, giving a global boost to our on-the-ground reporting. As part of the affiliation, we chronicled the worst moments of the Omicron outbreak, when the healthcare system was at breaking point, and how Hong Kong’s Covid crisis enabled Beijing to expand its influence. We also spoke to human rights lawyer Michael Vidler, who left the city in April after more than three decades citing concerns about the national security law.

2022 expansion: HKFP expanded to a team of eight in 2022, and hired our first photographer. We invested heavily in new gear and finally created a photo archive.

New income stream: HKFP signed up with ProQuest to resyndicate its news articles.

Football team: Fall River Marksmen Football Club in Massachusetts continued its ‘reverse sponsorship’ deal with HKFP, emblazoning our logo on their new kit and raising over HK$10,000 in jersey sales for our newsroom.

Placement & Impact

HKFP 2023 Team

Hong Kong Free Press is structured as a not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee, with no shareholders. HKFP does not answer to any business tycoon, mainland Chinese conglomerate or media mogul. We are run by journalists, and are answerable only to ourselves and our readers.

Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.

Mercedes Hutton

Mercedes is a Hong Kong-based British journalist with an interest in environmental and social issues. She has written for the Guardian and the BBC and previously worked at the South China Morning Post.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.

Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.

Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly – including on Hong Kong’s 2019 protests – for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.

Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.

Lea Mok

Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Kyle Lam

Kyle Lam is a Hong Kong Baptist University graduate who has worked as a photojournalist and reporter since 2013. His work has been published by HK01, the European Pressphoto Agency, Bloomberg and Ming Pao. Lam is the recipient of several prizes from the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association and Human Rights Press Awards.

Hong Kong Free Press would be impossible without the support and assistance of our countless tech, editorial, accounting, freelance staff and volunteers, as well as Newspack and The Hive.

Citations & Distribution Channels

Transparency Report

As Hong Kong’s most transparent news outlet, and as a non-profit company, HKFP is externally audited annually. Our 2022 expansion saw rising costs, though our support base shrank by around 10%, potentially related to the population exodus and waning interest in Hong Kong news.

HKFP Patrons in 2022: HKFP relies on a membership model. Small amounts of income from a large pool of Patrons help support our team, sustain our operations, and guarantee our newsroom’s independence and longevity. Our monthly income as of January 2023:

  • The number of HKFP Patrons declined by about 10% in 2022 to 946, after rising by a fifth the year before. Income from Patrons also declined by around 10% to HK$183,350.
  • In addition to the above, we receive at least HK$10,000 per month from offline donors who contribute via cheque, transfer/FPS or by coin donation via CoinDragon.
  • Patrons are given priority and/or free entry to HKFP events, merch and our Annual Report, and help keep the site free-to-access for those who cannot afford to contribute.

HKFP is predicted to make a loss of up to HK$500K in 2023. Though we are able to reinvest our previous surplus, we will need to work on a return to sustainability and halt the fall in HKFP Patrons.

Our finalised, audited income during 2021, and our predicted income for 2022:

Income2022*202120202019201820172016
Direct contributionsHK$3,886,984HK$4,497,890HK$6,357,972HK$6,056,859HK$2,463,408HK$1,769,760HK$1,063,125
Ads & content salesHK$194,862HK$143,695HK$110,247HK$271,066HK$136,084HK$328,759HK$92,276
EventsHK$0HK$0HK$0HK$263,361HK$24,390HK$0HK$8,352
Bank interest, insurance claimHK$0HK$3,932HK$10HK$226HK$21HK$1HK$12
Gov’t Covid subsidyHK$41,600HK$0HK$216,000HK$0HK$0HK$0HK$0
Total:HK$4,121,445HK$4,645,517HK$6,697,010HK$6,591,512HK$2,623,903HK$2,098,520HK$1,163,765
*2022 predicted, not yet audited.

Current revenue streams:

Reader contributions: includes one-off & monthly Patron contributions by cheque/transfer, cash, PayPal & card, as well as merch sales profit & shopping referral links.

Ads & content sales: includes ad income from display ads; Apple News & Facebook ads, Google/YouTube ads, directly purchased rate card ads & content sales [from media outlets, institutions and syndication partners LexisNexis, ProQuest, Dow Jones Factiva & Nordot.]

Surplus recycled: As a non-profit, with no shareholders or investors, any surplus is recycled back into the company for use in the following year. As of 2021, HKFP is also retaining a HK$1.5m legal defence fund in light of new challenges to press freedom.

Efficiency: HKFP is run as efficiently and prudently as possible, in order to maximise the impact of our donors’ generosity. We make savings by partnering with other media outlets, using free software/tools and making full use of teamwork and automation to save on costs.

2015 total surplus:HK$91,654
2016 total deficit:-HK$45,569
2017 total surplus:HK$445,796
2018 total surplus:‬HK$574,042‬
2019 total surplus:‬HK$3,698,358‬
2020 total surplus:HK$3,245,356
2021 total surplus:‬HK$783,164
2022 predicted deficit:-HK$777,330
*2022 predicted, not yet audited.

Finalised expenditure for our latest audited year, 2021, & our predicted 2022 spending:

Expenditure2022*202120202019201820172016
Full-time staff payrollHK$3,602,258HK$1,952,853HK$1.599mHK$1.606mHK$1.499mHK$1.340mHK$1.035m
Mandatory Provident Fund (pensions)HK$130,661HK$76,662HK$72,221HK$68,123HK$69,234HK$66,180HK$50,942
Web & software, newswire, commissionHK$228,462HK$138,532HK$132,269HK$129,543HK$58,693HK$33,083
Office, sundry, recruitment/training, telecomHK$460,375HK$273,244HK$109,289HK$164,256HK$110,414HK$57,565HK$25,801
Meals/drinks for volunteers/staff/sourcesHK$20,280HK$25,178HK$18,324HK$29,686HK$14,028HK$17,106HK$25,531
Legal, professional, registration, auditHK$82,143HK$37,365HK$96,505HK$12,340HK$7,385HK$45,231HK$10,845
Travel & insuranceHK$134,722HK$67,513HK$72,391HK$50,615HK$78,067HK$8,169HK$8,267
Stationery, merch, postage, printingHK$30,518HK$207,392HK$208,544HK$42,311HK$11,827HK$686HK$17,124
Bank charges, penalties & exchange lossesHK$2,940HK$4,232HK$13,752HK$4,240HK$1,705HK$1,170HK$2,218
Freelancer payments & gearHK$162,852HK$936,072HK$595,693HK$289,387HK$64,400HK$34,090HK$0
TaxTBCHK$59,518HK$408,496HK$509,211HK$29,816HK$13,343HK$0
AdvertisingHK$37,527HK$78,745HK$6,914HK$36,597HK$34,371HK$10,261HK$0
Membership, research/polls, repairs & otherHK$7,901HK$5,060HK$118,800
Total:HK$4,900,639HK$3.74mHK$3.04mHK$2.89m*HK$2.04mHK$1.65mHK$1.20m

HKFP Press Freedom Update

January 2022

February 2022 

March 2022

April 2022

May 2022

June 2022

 July 2022

August 2022

September 2022

October 2022

November 2022

December 2022

Support HKFP into 2022

Not-for-profit, run by journalists and completely independent, the HKFP team relies on readers to keep us going and to help safeguard press freedom.

Donate online via card, PayPal, direct transfer to our HSBC account or via FPS:

One-off or monthly contributions can be made with your Visa, Mastercard, or Apple Pay/Google Pay via Stripe on our website: support.hongkongfp.com.

Donate by cheque
Cheques of amounts up to HK$50,000 may be made payable to Hong Kong Free Press Limited and posted – along with your full name and address to: HKFP, The Hive Kennedy Town, 6/F, Cheung Hing Industrial Building, 12P Smithfield Road, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong. [Contributions are confidential – a paper-trail is required for our internal accountancy records.]

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Buy HKFP merchandise

Show your support for press freedom with our range of HKFP merchandise. Made in Hong Kong, designed by artist Badiucao.

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Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.