When Hong Kong Free Press launched eight years ago today, the city’s constitutional guarantees of press freedom – whilst delicate – were never thought to be fundamentally in peril. Today, press freedom remains “in our pockets,” according to Hong Kong’s leader, yet the idea of newsroom raids, journalists behind bars, news outlets disbanding and arrests over speech were unthinkable just a few years ago.
Certainly, many reporters who entered the industry before the security law era would not fathom, nor sign up to face, such risks. So why does HKFP choose to stick around? Is it worth it? And can we still report freely?
Over the years, our mission has evolved from seeking to fill the gap between Chinese and English-language reporting, to becoming a fully-fledged, professionalised newsroom fighting daily to occupy the remaining space for press freedom and journalism. None of us can ignore the increasingly-restrictive environment, but we are committed to keeping the journalistic tradition and our Ethics Code at the forefront of our minds and work.
We opt to remain alongside Hongkongers in the city because we believe that, for us, there is no local news story we cannot do. Our team is focused on navigating the red lines in order to continue delivering original features and on-the-ground reporting. Whilst we have diversified our coverage, sought legal advice, and are forced to be more selective with our opinion section, it is all aimed at safeguarding our bottom line: covering the local daily news.
We have never once self-censored such reporting and – for HKFP, at least – we have found the breathing room needed to ensure we can continue writing the first draft of history. As the territory’s only English-language independent news outlet – whilst fellow outlets and their archives vanish around us – that mission has never been more important.
…and pressing on
Key to HKFP’s longevity has been our strictly impartial stance, our commitment to accuracy, and our unique level of corporate and financial transparency as a non-profit. Despite everything, our reporters are still able to ask tough questions of top officials, monitor lawmakers at the “patriotic” legislature, investigate wrongdoing by the authorities (and get results), attend court cases every day, and use existing mechanisms to help safeguard what remains of the city’s press freedom. For journalists in China, most of these privileges – and much of this access – has been lost, meaning we are even more duty-bound to exercise them in Hong Kong, whilst we still can.
Future court rulings and new legislation may threaten our capacity to continue such work but – for now – the risks of being on-the-ground are outweighed by the benefits of trying to cover the city from elsewhere.
Nuance, accuracy, and the ability to speak directly to Hongkongers would suffer were our team not dedicated to staying put and pressing on.
Expanding in 2023…
With 25,000 articles under our belts, the HKFP team has seen it all during the past eight years: cyberattacks, threats, censorship in China, visa trouble, harassment, physical attacks, media bans, a columnist fleeing and more than our fair share of pepperspray and tear gas. But we have also won prestigious awards and grants, have been nominated for a Nobel, set regional standards for financial transparency and for freelancers, achieved top marks for credibility, successfully fought for digital media recognition and put on art, film, literary and music events over the years. We linked up with the Guardian, have been the subject of an Al-Jazeera documentary, raised millions of dollars to expand our newsroom, created a free, open source fundraising site for the industry, and launched the careers of 43 local journalists. (Plus, there is a whole football team on the other side of the world running around with our logo!)
Already this year, HKFP has moved to a larger office, joined SOPA, and hired several new staff. We are launching a podcast in 2023, and have begun the process of joining the Trust Project and Journalism Trust Initiative to further demonstrate – and bolster – our editorial standards and accountability. Along with our Newsguard rating, our work, ethics and transparency will be governed by a reassuring “triple lock.”
…but we need your help
For years, most local media outlets have self-censored out of fear or pressure from media bosses, their mainland umbrella companies or shareholders. HKFP is answerable only to readers, and is a truly people-powered platform – reliant on regular reader contributions averaging around HK$200 a month.
Despite a years-long funding crisis in media, we have vowed never to install a paywall and we rely on our monthly Patrons to help keep HKFP free to read for those who can’t afford to chip in. The price of a weekly coffee, the equivalent of an hour’s work per month, or whatever you can afford, will help us keep the lights on and return to sustainability.
Thanks to our dedicated team, Hongkongers can trust HKFP to continue to report on stories buried or ignored by others. But press freedom is not free, and our work is completely reliant on Patrons. If you believe in our mission, and want to help protect independent media in Hong Kong, please consider supporting our newsroom with a one-off or monthly contribution.
Thank you for reading, and thank you to all of our supporters!
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