Download a copy of the latest Hong Kong Free Press Annual Report – it includes a Transparency Report based on our latest yearly, independent audit.
Letter from the Editor-in-chief:
Hong Kong’s decision to oust a foreign journalist after he hosted a talk with a pro-independence activist prompted international condemnation and sent shockwaves across the local media industry last year. Some called Victor Mallet’s expulsion the “death of Hong Kong,” as staff at Hong Kong’s 80-odd foreign media organisations had to suddenly navigate grey areas and vague “red lines.”
But press freedom was not the only existential threat facing the media in 2018. HKFP broke the widely-cited Mallet story, yet online Google ads running on our scoop earned us less than HK$1 in income. This underscores how broken ad-driven revenue models are and – coupled with reports of commercial boycotts – justifies our reader-backed, ground-up approach to sustainability.
HKFP was able to invest in exclusive and original reporting last year thanks to the unique generosity of our supporters. As Hong Kong’s first crowd-funded media outlet, we have now published over 13,000 articles, free of interference from any media mogul, investor, shareholder or Chinese conglomerate. During our fundraiser last March, over 850 people donated an average of HK$1,000, whilst journalism veterans, writers, developers and local firms offered advice, resources and pro-bono support. By November, we were able to bring our backers together for a sell-out, community event – Free Expression Week – which we hope will act as an annual barometer on the state of civil liberties locally.
Four years in, we have demonstrated that HKFP is a newspaper powered not only by donations, but through the grassroots support of a community and the city’s famously dogged “Lion Rock” spirit. As we enter 2019, Chinese state media outlets are set to expand heavily and Hong Kong is mulling a National Anthem law many fear will stifle free speech. With the legislature neutered and Hongkongers lacking at a voice at the ballot box, an independent media has never been so vital.
We would like to thank our supporters for backing us over the past 12 months, and invite you to review our team’s work, as we gear up for another year of frontline reporting.
Our mission & Impact:
We aim to be the most independent and credible English-language news source in Greater China. We seek to amplify the voices of the voiceless, not the powerful. And our platform will act as a monitor should Hong Kong’s core values and freedoms be threatened. The HKFP team is fully committed to reporting the facts, without fear, favour or interference.
- HKFP has served up over 33.8 million pageviews since June 2015.
- We now reach over 84,600 Facebook fans & 95,000 Twitter followers.
- No.2 on social media among all local English-language news outlets.
- Our team have published over 13,500 news and comment pieces in under four years, hosting writing from 300 authors and organisations.
- We are reaching thousands of readers through our newsletter, apps, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, G+, Telegram and other channels.
- In 2018 alone, HKFP raised over HK$2m to fund our operations and safeguard our independence.
The Best of HKFP 2018
After refocusing on original features in 2017, we slowed our daily coverage in 2018 to carry more scoops and exclusives. This restructuring culminated in HKFP breaking one of the biggest stories of the year: Hong Kong’s ousting of a Financial Times journalist. Throughout 2018, we also gave leading coverage to the banning of a pro-independence party, as well as the opening of the controversial Macau mega-bridge and China Express Rail Link. We covered the city’s biggest-ever storm, rising censorship, the 2018 budget, the Tiananmen Massacre anniversary and reported through-the-night on two legislative by-elections.
Exclusive Features: HKFP examined the challenges facing social workers, learnt about how a local ministry served over 600 asylum seekers, and looked into Soho’s historic past as a working-class neighbourhood. We reported on the “begpacker” phenomenon, the grassroots activists filling the elderly care gap, the residents fighting corruption at local housing estates and the struggles of an activist bookstore. We published features on recruitment issues and challenges in the media industry, the return of Hong Kong’s controversial anti-subversion law, a domestic worker who became a protest photographer. We also linked stories of today’s refugees with those of Vietnamese boat people in the 70s.
Also in 2018, HKFP looked at local community concerns over the fate of Shep Kip Mei’s markets, gentrification in Western district and noise pollution in Mong Kok. We asked whether promises were being kept over the environmental issues at Aberdeen harbour and investigated the theft of trees on Lamma Island.
Our team also spoke to a labour dispute watchdog news website run by volunteers, and reported on the battle for a waterfront park, the increase in the use of a draconian law governing computer use, suspicious fires in the wetlands, a board game about police corruption, dog shelters fighting for survival, war relics uncovered in a country park, the challenges facing the city’s wheelchair users and the Taiwan walking tours fighting stereotypes.
China: Despite lacking access, we also published China-related features about the Communist Party’s treatment of western firms, its crackdown on dissident and rights websites, elderly care and the erosion of filial piety, anti-Japanese movie dramas, human rights lawyer Lin Qilei, as well as Beijing’s tightening grip on new media and the human rights crisis in Xinjiang.
HKFP interviewed its first pro-Beijing lawmaker – Eunice Yung last May and former official Christine Loh in December. We also interviewed Cardinal Zen – an outspoken critic of China’s Vatican deal, and pro-democracy rights lawyer Chris Ng. Our interview with pro-democracy law scholar Benny Tai received critical acclaim. And before she was banned from running, we spoke to pro-democracy election hopeful Agnes Chow. The team also interviewed historian Vivian Kong, writer/performer Gabby So, and veteran pro-democracy activist Yip Po-lam.
LGBTQ & Gender: HKFP published over 100 pieces on the fight for LGBT+ equality in 2018. We investigated sexual harassment claims at a church group and our earlier reports into sexual misconduct allegations against the LA Times Beijing bureau chief led to his resignation. Our team looked into how the authorities are struggling to contain new, online spaces for sexual harassment and conducted an investigation into homophobic policies at Hong Kong’s private clubs and universities. We revisited cases of violence against domestic workers and profiled the female weightlifters breaking boundaries as well as non-binary trans activist Vincy Chan.
Special Features & Scoops: HKFP broke one of the biggest stories of the year, revealing Beijing’s effort to cancel a Foreign Correspondents’ Club talk by a pro-independence advocate. We then revealed how the authorities refused to renew the work visa of Financial Times Asia chief Victor Mallet, who hosted the event as the club’s vice-president. Mallet was subsequently barred from Hong Kong, prompting protests, months-long reverberations in local politics, and wide international news coverage.
We were the first to report that a Chinese state media journalist had been charged in the UK with assault, we showed how a Swiss airline succumbed to pressure from Beijing, and reported that China had asked local consulates to change their official names and inform them about elections.
We broke news about a Hong Kong activist fleeing to Taiwan, and the local authorities rejecting a protest application. HKFP also published an exclusive, two-part series of unseen Tiananmen Square protest photos from 1989. Columns by writer Kong Tsung-gan were cited in UK parliament, and we carried an op-ed from ex-governor Chris Patten. Our team also published three exclusive stories based on British declassified files involving the Court of Final Appeal, the construction of the airport, and the career of democrat Martin Lee.
Exclusive Mini-documentaries: In collaboration with the University of Hong Kong’s journalism department, we published video documentaries on Kin-ball’s fight for recognition as a sport, a quadcopter retrieval team, a domestic worker who turned to sex work, tensions on campus between local and mainland students and aerial bamboo yoga. Over Christmas, we published a series of 14 “Hong Kong Humans” clips with HKU on topics as wide-ranging as sports, human rights, religion, art and death.
- This year, we carried over 220 HKFP Opinion pieces, showcasing much-needed commentary missing elsewhere in English. We featured analysis from renowned writers such as Steve Vines, Suzanne Pepper, Kong Tsung-gan, Ilaria Maria Sala, Tim Hamlett, Yuen Chan, Jason Y. Ng, Kent Ewing, Sai Pradhan, David Bandurski and Evan Fowler.
- We conducted all fundraising independently in 2018, using our own donation software instead of third-party crowdfunding sites. The move saved us thousands in admin fees.
- Reporters Without Borders upgraded Hong Kong’s press freedom ranking in May, stating that Hong Kong Free Press is part of an “organised resistance to Beijing’s meddling.” We were invited to Seoul to help launch the report, with RSF hailing us as a model for the region in a June blog post.
- A number of website fixes were rolled out to improve our uptime and site speed. Dozens of bugs, CSS design issues and load-bearing issues were resolved.
- In June, we rolled out staff healthcare and dental care, as well as three months maternity/paternity leave.
- Also in June, our editor-in-chief shared the story of HKFP and the importance of press freedom at TEDx Wanchai. He also spoke at three local universities and attended the East-West Center media conference in Singapore.
- We openly advocated for LGBTQ and gender equality, sponsoring Pride 2018. In September, partnered with No Air-Con Night to promote green habits, and we supported the annual Human Rights Art Prize in December in conjunction with Justice Centre.
- In November, we linked with RTHK and PEN Hong Kong to run a short story-writing competition, Top Story 2018.
- In early 2018, HKFP moved its operations to a new branch of The Hive in Wong Chuk Hang, placing the news team minutes from the legislature and government HQ.
- Staff appeared on ABC Australia, BBC World (TV & radio), RTHK, Deutsche Welle and Sky News among others.
Free Expression Week
- Our series of events on free expression since the Umbrella Movement was well received in November, with four sell-out film-showings and panels.
- HKFP linked up with NGOs Amnesty International, WMA Film, Planet Ally and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
- We premiered Umbrella Diaries: The First Umbrella and showed Last Exit to Kai Tak and A Day in Transition. Panel guests included activist Joshua Wong, Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, artist Sampson Wong, Amnesty’s Patrick Poon RSF’s Cédric Alviani.
- The centrepiece art exhibition by cartoonist Badiucao was cancelled owing to threats (see page 13). However, the series of events will be expanded in 2019 to act as an annual barometer of free expression in the city.
Placement and partnerships
HKFP’s 2019 Priorities
- HKFP will continue to focus on growing our number of HKFP Patrons – monthly donors – in order to become more sustainable. We are aiming for 500 Patrons.
- We will launch a new range of mobile apps, which will be more functional and accessible.
- We will further diversify our pool of contributors and launch a code of ethics to improve our accountability.
- In November, we will host a second, expanded Free Expression Week.
- Following our 2019 funding drive, we will further invest in original reporting and features, scoops and exclusives.
Staff & Structure
Hong Kong Free Press is structured as a not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee, not shares. 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.
We are proud to be Hong Kong’s most transparent news outlet and, as a non-profit company, HKFP is externally audited every year.
Our income for the period between 1/1/2017 and 31/12/2017 was as follows:
Our 2017 revenue streams:
- All donations: includes one-off and monthly Patron contributions by cheque, cash, transfer, PayPal and debit/credit card, as well as profit from merch sales.
- Ad/content sales: includes income from Google/YouTube display ads [HK$3-9k/month]; directly purchased rate card ads; and content sales [from media outlets, institutions and Dow Jones Factiva re-syndication].
HKFP Patrons: HKFP is shifting towards a membership model. A monthly income from Patrons helps support our team and operations sustainably. As of the end of 2018:
- 72 credit/debit card donors donate HK$14,858 per month, before fees (average HK$206/month).
- 52 PayPal donors donate HK$11,690 per month, before fees (average HK$225/month).
- We receive at least HK$6,000 per month from donors who contribute regularly via cheque/transfer.
- In total, we have a membership income of at least HK$32,562/month from at least 124 Patrons – up from 99 contributing HK$19,767/month in 2017. Donors are overwhelmingly from Hong Kong, though we also have backers in the US, UK, Australia and China.
- Patrons are given priority and/or free entry to HKFP events, merchandise and a hard copy of our Annual Report. We aim to reach 500 patrons between 2019-2020.
Our expenditure for our latest audited year – 1/1/2017 to 31/12/2017 – was as follows:
|Mandatory Provident Fund (pensions)||HK$50,942||HK$66,180|
|Website, newswire text/photo, software||HK$33,083||HK$58,693|
|Office, sundry & recruitment/training||HK$25,801||HK$57,565|
|Meals/drinks for volunteers & staff||HK$25,531||HK$17,106|
|Legal, professional, registration, audit fees||HK$10,845||HK$45,231|
|Travel & Insurance||HK$8,267||HK$8,169|
|Freelancer payments & gear||HK$0||HK$34,090|
- 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 wherever possible and making full use of teamwork and automation to save on labour costs.
- During 2017, we employed 4-6 full-time staff members, including a summer intern.
Our balance as of the end of 2017:
|2015 total surplus:||HK$91,654|
|2016 total deficit:||-HK$45,569|
|2017 total surplus:||HK$445,796|
As a non-profit, with no shareholders or investors, HKFP’s surplus was recycled back into the company in 2018.
81% of all spending goes directly towards supporting our hard-working 24/7 news team.
New revenue streams for 2018 include Book Depository shopping link referrals and coin donation via Coin Dragon machines. We also accept Bitcoin and Flattr microdonations.
Press Freedom Update:
A summary of major press freedom incidents in Hong Kong during 2018:
- The International Federation of Journalists reports on “unprecedented hardship” for Hong Kong’s media industry.
- A trade union slams public broadcaster RTHK’s move to pause Facebook updates after complaints from a pro-Beijing website.
- A poll shows that Hongkongers believe press freedom has dropped to its lowest pointyet.
- Chief Exec. Carrie Lam says that the legality of media covering pro-independence comments “will depend on the situation and law.“
- Press freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders upgrades Hong Kong’s press freedom rating, citing “organised resistance.“
- A local journalist is injured and taken away by police while reporting on a rights lawyers’ hearing in Beijing. Justice Sec. Teresa Cheng claims the assault was “strange,” but fails to condemn it.
- A Reuters Institute study flags the impact of Chinese money on the independence of Hong Kong media.
- HKFP examines why young journalists in Hong Kong are ditching the media industry, citing high pressure, long hours and low pay.
- A Chinese forum attended by ex-Hong Kong Leung Chun-ying seeks to censor local media.
- The staff association of local paper Ming Pao condemns the results of an internal police probeafter its reporter was allegedly assaulted during the 2016 Mong Kok unrest.
- Chief Exec. Carrie Lam says that answering questions in English during a press stand-up is a waste of time.
- Broadcaster Metro Radio evacuates its office after staff receive white powder in an envelope. A woman is arrested.
- The Hong Kong Journalists Association says that the national security focus and the “China factor” is hurting the city’s free press.
- Ex-Hong Kong chief Leung Chun-yinghits out at the Foreign Correspondents’ Clubfor hosting a talk by independence activist Andy Chan.
- RTHK bans staff from live-streamingChan’s speech as the Hong Kong Journalists Association expresses “extreme regret”.
- “Suspected malware” shuts down the Foreign Correspondents’ Club’s website.
- Ex-Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-yingsends legal letters demanding news website Stand News retract a “defamatory” article.
- Hong Kong rejects a visa renewal for the Foreign Correspondents’ Club’s vice-president Victor Mallet, who chaired Andy Chan’s talk. Democrat Claudia Mo calls it a “vindictive act.“
- The club criticises the “rare and extraordinary” bid to expel Mallet as the Journalists Association demands answers.
- Mallet is questioned at the airportand given a week to leave Hong Kong. International pressure mounts as Chief Exec. Carrie Lam refuses to explain. His employer, the Financial Times, says it will appeal.
- Democrats are kicked out of the legislative chamberamid press freedom protests.
- Hong Kong media boss Siu Sai-wo says he “did not misquote” Beijing’s propaganda chief as saying that Hong Kong news outlets should not become bases for interference in China.
- Exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian says that Hong Kong publishers are “too afraid to bring out”a Chinese version of his new novel.
- Hong Kong art space Tai Kwun backtracks on its decision to cancel Ma’s book talk after an international outcry over censorship.
- Victor Mallet is banned from entering Hong Kong, as the Foreign Correspondents’ Club says his expulsion is a “threat to free society.
- News outlet HK01 hits back after the Hong Kong Journalists Association questions its Taiwan independence editorial “disclaimer.”
Incidents at HKFP:
- In 2018, three sets of threatening letters were sent to HKFP staff and their families. Police are continuing to investigate.
- In November, HKFP’s “Gongle” art opening by dissident cartoonist Badiucao was cancelled after the artist was threatened.
- Also in November, local media reported on an orchestrated advertising boycott targeting HKFP.