Hong Kong transport news site Transit Jam has ceased operations, its owner announced on Tuesday, making it the latest outlet to disappear in the wake of the security law. The closure came days after its founder was targeted in the state-run press.

Transit Jam website
The Transit Jam website on May 9, 2023. Photo: HKFP screenshot.

Founded in 2020 and self-funded, the platform focused on local transport and infrastructure issues. Journalist and activist James Ockenden said on Twitter that it had been an honour to work on the road safety beat, adding “I hope some young reporters will look into that, best job in the world.”

He asked readers to keep in touch and said he would be working on his novels: “I’ll keep [the site] up as an archive, a rather intense three-year snapshot of HK transport. 775 stories, 175 detailed road death reports, a huge number of scoops and exclusives, real impact reporting.”

See also: Explainer: The decline of Hong Kong’s press freedom under the national security law

Ockenden told HKFP that Transit Jam’s media registration with the government was withdrawn on April 23.

State-backed media coverage

State-backed Wen Wei Po published an article on Ockenden on April 21. The newspaper claimed that a “wildcat protest” by Ockenden in Central during a Chinese official’s visit could have been an attempt to “use bread-and-butter issues as a front to attempt stirring up trouble in Hong Kong.”

Ockenden’s one-man demonstration called for a pedestrianisation scheme on Hong Kong Island.

wen wei po
Wen Wei Po’s report on James Ockenden. Photo: HKFP.

Wen Wei Po cited an unnamed political figure claiming that Ockenden’s protest was a scheme by external forces, and an effort to generate “smears” about freedom of speech being oppressed in Hong Kong.

The paper also reported that Ockenden had launched an online media outlet amid the anti-extradition bill protests that claimed to be concerned about transport issues, “but, at the same time, recruited reporters that followed District Council meetings.”

The outlet also said that Ockenden “often published anti-government posts” on his personal social media platform.

File Photo: GovHK.

In response, Ockenden told HKFP that he had been interested in safe streets for over a decade and began writing an insurance firm’s newsletter on walkability in 2010. He said his passion increased after he had children.

“In 2018, I worked with the then-chief of traffic police on an app idea which would allow people to report pavement obstructions – the app didn’t go anywhere but I personally made hundreds if not thousands of reports of obstructions, illegal parking and engine idling,” Ockenden said.

“During the 2019 unrest, I worked to clear roads and pavements of obstructions. In 2020 I saw a big gap in the English-language reporting of road violence and launched Transit Jam.”

He added that he tried to recruit Chinese-speaking reporters to cover District Council meetings “as the DC is really the sharp end of local safe streets and DC minutes often come out months if not years after meetings.”

Press freedom in decline

According to NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), nine other outlets have closed down since the Beijing-enacted security law came into force in June 2020. They include Citizen News, Apple Daily, Stand News and Factwire.

Last Wednesday, RSF ranked Hong Kong 140th among the 180 regions in its latest Press Freedom Index, trailing behind Colombia and Cameroon. China ranked 179th, just above North Korea.

“In the past month – and week – we also have observed cases of media outlets being barred from reporting on official events, while a few journalists including from independent online media outlets have been followed,” Cédric Alviani, East Asia bureau director of RSF, told HKFP.

The government has said that press freedom is intact, and the number of registered outlets has increased since 2020.

Additional reporting: Candice Chau.

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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.