Hong Kong journalists who have emigrated face a number of difficulties when trying to start their careers in media overseas, according to a report published by an overseas journalists’ body.

However, most of those who responded to the small-sample poll told researchers that they had no plans to return to Hong Kong and did not regret their decision to leave the city despite the challenges.

media press journalists press freedom journalism
Journalists at a press conference. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

An exodus of Hongkongers, including experienced journalists, was seen after the 2019 protests against the the extradition bill and the implementation of the national security law in 2020.

From December 17 last year to February 20, the Association of Overseas Hong Kong Media Professionals (AOHKMP) surveyed nearly a hundred Hong Kong media workers who have moved overseas. The association – which was founded by veteran Hong Kong journalists who have left the city, such as columnist Joseph Lian and Steve Vines – then conducted in-depth interviews with 12 of the respondents.

Among the 90 valid responses received, a third of the journalists said they were continuing to pursue a career in the media industry, while the remaining two-thirds had devoted themselves to other professions, including a YouTuber, a barista, a car mechanic, a speech pathologist and a florist.

Among those who were not working in the media, 40 per cent expressed their desire to enter the industry again.

Bao Choy
Supporters of journalist Bao Choy outside High Court. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

However, language skills and a lack of local knowledge were major obstacles when competing for roles, with two-third of the respondents saying they were not confident working in non-Chinese speaking environments.

“There is no solution on the language issue. It is almost impossible for me to achieve
a native speaker level of English,” one of the interviewees told researchers.

Many said they also lacked connections in the local media industry and may miss out on opportunities as a result, according to the report.

No regrets

However, despite the challenges, 72 of the 90 respondents said they had no plans to return to Hong Kong, while 81 respondents said they did not regret moving overseas.

Some journalists said they were not interested in returning to it due to burnout and mental health issues stemming from their experience in Hong Kong.

Ronson Chan
Former Stand News deputy editor and Hong Kong Journalists Association chair Ronson Chan was apprehended as the news outlet was raided by national security police. Photo: Supplied.

“I am no longer interested in journalism jobs after the past few years. The depressing
atmosphere in Hong Kong and the poor management at my workplace under such
an environment were simply too much,” said a former investigative journalist who moved to the UK in early 2023 and planned to study a master’s degree on the environment.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

Since the security law was implemented, a number of Hong Kong outlets have closed, including Apple Daily and Stand News. Both newsrooms were raided by police officers, including those from the National Security Department, and top executives and editors were arrested.

Apple Daily raid June 17, 2021
Police officers at Apple Daily’s headquarters in Hong Kong on June 17, 2021. Photo: Supplied.

The sedition trial against two former Stand News editors is currently underway, while the national security trial against Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai has been adjourned until September.

International media watchdogs and NGOs have warned that such arrests and the closure of media outlets have had a chilling effect on press freedom in the city. Hong Kong fell 68 places to 148th in Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index in 2022.

However, the authorities have denied that journalists’ arrests have had anything to do with the security law, and Chief Executive John Lee has said that press freedom was “in the pocket of the people of Hong Kong.”

Self-run media

Despite the challenges faced by those who had emigrated, the report found that there were still opportunities for Hong Kong journalists to continue their careers overseas.

Public broadcasters such as the BBC, Voice of America, and Radio Free Asia have hired Hong Kong journalists with Chinese-language skills and knowledge of Hong Kong and the diaspora community.

Meanwhile, newly founded Hong Kong diaspora media and self-run media have also provided opportunities for Hong Kong journalists to continue reporting on Hong Kong. However, funding issues and staff shortages have created challenges for these independent media, the report said.

“Our research has found a strong determination to keep the spirit and practise of a free media alive. Given the dangers of independent journalism within Hong Kong, our respondents recognise the responsibility to work for the restoration of a free media in their new, and safer
homes abroad,” the report concluded.

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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.