According to both Beijing and Hong Kong officials, freedom of the press has survived unscathed since the national security law came into force in June 2020. But prominent independent outlets have shut down one after another and journalists have been detained on national security and sedition charges.
The International Federation of Journalists says Hong Kong’s press freedom has entered its “end game.”
A number of independent media outlets have folded – notably Apple Daily in June 2021 and Stand News in December that year following a police raid and the arrest of staff. The list of closed platforms also includes Citizen News, which cited unclear “legal boundaries” and concerns about staff safety.
But a number of small-scale local Chinese-language outlets are still telling the stories of Hong Kong in an independent voice.
“[A]lthough the environment changed, most of us have remained in our position and try our best to find the truth for the Hong Kong community,” said Ronson Chan, chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, when he accepted the Freedom of the Press Asia award on behalf of Hong Kong journalists from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in April 2022.
Founded by “a small group of former Apple Daily employees” on July 21, 2021, Channel C HK has won more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube, over 185,000 Instagram followers and nearly 80,000 likes on Facebook in just nine months.
The media outlet said the “C” in its name stands for “City, Crime, Culture” and it mainly covers social news and buzz topics. In February Ronson Chan joined Channel C after his previous employer – Stand News – ceased operations.
Founded in 2004 ahead of the World Trade Organization protests in Hong Kong, InMedia is the only truly independent Chinese news outlet still producing daily news. It is backed by reader contributions.
The outlet said its mission was to promote the development of citizen journalists and become “a media outlet that stands with the civil society.”
Journalist Kwan Chun-hoi founded the outlet in July 2019 amid the anti-extradition bill protests and unrest, with a focus on detailed and coherent feature stories about the city.
Hong Kong Feature had a physical bookstore at Mong Kok which doubled as its offices until it closed on January 23, 2022. Early that year the outlet announced its transition to a subscription-based model and started publishing a monthly magazine for paying readers.
Lam Yin-pong, a reporter and then an assignment editor at Stand News, set up his “one-man-band” platform ReNews on Facebook and Instagram on April 19, 2022.
In a launch statement, Lam said that while the content would centre on news, he would also occasionally publish interviews and feature stories. He said he hoped that via his platform, readers could “simply and directly grasp the change in the city, the context behind it, and most crucially, how to understand the tides behind current issues.”
The Witness went online on May 16, 2022 with a singular focus on reporting court news in Hong Kong. The outlet relied purely on donations from readers with content freely available to the public.
According to the about page, The Witness was established by “a group of former court reporters,” who stepped up after seeing that court coverage has dwindled recently, with some cases “even disappearing from the public eye” after the closure of several outlets.
Established on January 1, 2023, HK Court News is another online outlet that focuses on daily court reporting. The newsroom primarily publishes its content on Facebook and Instagram, and pledges it will start producing print publications in the future.
The outlet said it currently only has three reporters who have up to 20 years of experience at different media outlets. It added that it will start to accept subscription from readers after its website goes online, but did not provide an exact date.
Veteran journalist Lui Tze-lok and former RTHK reporter Bao Choy co-founded online outlet The Collective in February 2022. The outlet produces in-depth reports on-the-ground and pledges to keep all content freely available to the public.
Choy was previously convicted of making “false statements” when accessing vehicle licence plate information for an investigative documentary about the Yuen Long mob attacks that occurred on July 21, 2019. The journalist has appealed to the top court and the case will be heard on May 3.
Founded by former Apple Daily and Stand News reporters in April 2023, online outlet Photon Media covers daily local and international news and produces original feature stories.
The outlet’s list of consultants included Mark Clifford, the former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post, ex-RTHK broadcaster and HKFP columnist Steve Vines, as well as Josh Rogin, a columnist at The Washington Post.
HK City Creation started publishing in February 2022 following the closure of prominent independent online outlets Stand News and Citizen News.
The online publication produces daily news, feature stories and documentaries. Readers can support its operation with donations or monthly subscriptions.
The Photographic Society Hong Kong (PSHK) was also established in July 2019 in the midst of the citywide protests. It specialises in photojournalism and video production while also covering daily news.
Readers can support its operations by becoming a monthly subscriber on Patreon or purchasing its merchandise. It also offers commercial photography and video services.
Independent documentary channel The Well published its first visual feature story on April 1, 2022.
The outlet is run by one journalist and has produced seven feature videos and several short clips as of January 2023.
Online news outlet Passion Times was founded by Wong Yeung-tat and his team in 2012. Wong also founded Civic Passion, a political party with roots in the localist movement, but quit before its dissolution last September. The digital outlet has continued to operate independently and has more than 475,300 followers on Facebook.
The founder said on May 18 that he was ordered by national security police to delete “sensitive content” from Passion Times’ website. Local media reported that the removed articles were related to a Hong Kong “national flag” competition.
A group of former employees from Apple Daily’s supplement section founded the platform Mill Milk on October 13, 2021. They produce community feature stories as well as different entertainment shows and publish daily on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
As of April, the outlet had over 300,000 subscribers on YouTube. The channel ranked seventh in Hong Kong’s “Top 10 Breakout Creators” on the video sharing platform in 2021.
Rice Zi was set up in July 2021 by another team of former Apple Daily supplement creators. It specialises in community news, feature stories and interviews while also producing content on food and drink.
Its YouTube channel topped the “Top 10 Breakout Creators” chart in 2021 and had over 230,000 subscribers as of April.
The online magazine Wave. started operation on June 10, 2022 with a focus on dissecting the new wave of Hong Kong’s popular culture.
The two journalists who launched the project said they wanted to break out of “the traditional framing of entertainment news by conventional outlets” and introduce readers to the city’s scene of popular culture with profile features and data analysis.
Run by a group of volunteer reporters, photographers and journalists, the non-profit media outlet covers local and international news, mainly on its Instagram account.
Variant was founded in mid-May 2020, seeking to “uncover more stories that are not in the spotlight.”
Publishing on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, The End Day tells the stories of mostly small business owners driven by a mission.
Its staff are former employees of different publications grouped under Next Digital Limited, the parent company of Apple Daily.
Factcheck Lab was established in May 2020 as an independent fact-checking platform. It actively verifies the accuracy of information from popular online discussions and issues. The lab will also look into news reports or other information if they are flagged by the public.
The International Fact-Checking Network deemed the organisation compliant with its code of principles in October 2021.
The Facebook page “Hong Kong Social Reality” (香港 • 社實) started in May 2020 to publish daily social news and sometimes live coverage of incidents.
Aside from joining existing outlets or creating new information platforms, some local journalists chose to publish through their own social media accounts.
Examples include Alvin Chan, a former principal reporter with Apple Daily’s interviews team who now focuses on court reporting and daily news; Leung Ka-lai, another ex-Apple Daily journalist who mainly tells the stories of 2019 protesters released from prison or facing trial; and Ingrid Tse, who started publishing original reports after experiencing first-hand the mass resignations at iCable and the shutdown of Apple Daily and Citizen News.
The list goes on. Citizen reporter Siu Wan, who carried on posting after he was arrested under the sedition law on suspicion of causing nuisance during court hearings; Grace Chan, who started her project to interview 100 Hongkongers after the demise of Citizen News; and many other journalists who have pressed on independently.
“[I] have only walked the path as a journalist for a few years, [I] have to carry on with what I like,” Tse wrote on her Facebook page.