Our latest Annual Report includes a Transparency Report based on our latest yearly, independent audit.

Letter from the Editor

Dear readers and supporters,

Over the past year, the HKFP newsroom underwent a transformation – we expanded, professionalised, moving to a new, larger, private office. We doubled our freelance budget, hired three new staff, won a SOPA award, and produced almost 150 fully-fledged original features. Our team covered the first “patriots only” election, Covid-19, the national security law, and we exceeded our Funding Drive target, bringing 1,000 monthly Patrons online.

But 2021 was also a brutal year for the media industry in Hong Kong, with newsrooms raided, editors arrested and outlets disbanding in fear. In all, over 60 civil society groups disappeared last year, all whilst the authorities said press freedom was intact, deeming foreign criticism of journalist arrests a violation of international law.

Yet we are continuing our work. HKFP was founded seven years ago as a response to press freedom concerns, but – aside from our 2020 work visa denial – our newsroom has never been directly troubled by the authorities. This is likely owing to our impartial stance, transparent funding, and balanced coverage guided by an Ethics Code and Corrections Policy. Press freedom is guaranteed by the Basic Law, Bill of Rights and security law – it is in our name, and it is on this basis that we operate.

For these reasons, HKFP staff are united in our commitment to continue our on-the-ground award-winning reporting. Nonetheless, we cannot be naïve when it comes to ensuring staff safety and security, protecting sources, and trying our best to navigate unclear legal realities whilst test cases go through court. We are a Hong Kong news outlet, we love this city, and we have not entertained the idea of reporting on it from elsewhere. Besides, it is only by being on-the-ground that we can maintain nuance and accuracy through attending events, press conferences, court cases and speaking directly with Hongkongers.

But because of the current uncertainties facing journalists, we may make some precautionary changes this year upon legal advice. Above all though, we will always be guided by the journalistic tradition, our ethics code, and the day-to-day mission of ensuring accuracy and fairness. And despite recent events, we do not believe there are any Hong Kong stories we would have to avoid reporting.

I am happy to present our Annual Report, as we round-up our best coverage, achievements, and our accounts from the past 12 months. During this coming year, we look forward to covering the city’s leadership race, the 25 th anniversary of the Handover, the pandemic and court cases. And with your support and readership, the HKFP team will continue to hold the line and press on!

Our Mission & Impact

Founded in 2015, Hong Kong Free Press is an impartial, non-profit, award-winning English-language newspaper. Run by journalists, backed by readers and completely independent, HKFP is governed by a public code of ethics.

Best of 2021

Original features: Our features in 2021 documented Hong Kong’s transformation under the shadow of the Beijing-enacted security law. We delved into how counsellors and psychologists grappled with the fear of creeping self-censorship in their practice, how booksellers were reported to the national security police during the Hong Kong Book Fair for selling politically sensitive titles, and how one of the city’s last remaining independent bookstores shuttered, citing the political environment

We also looked at how the city’s filmmakers, publishers and street artists navigated the shifting red lines, and how some Hongkongers are inking messages of resistance onto their own skin

The city’s media landscape forever changed last year with the closure of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. HKFP was at its newsrooms and printing presses on its last day of operations. We also explored how the city’s Beijing-backed press are gaining more influence

The year also saw the mass resignations of pro-democracy district councillors after new oath requirements were introduced. We documented the final days of one local councillor in office and explored how the exodus of district representatives also left community newspapers struggling.

As protest-related and national security cases piled up in the city’s courts, we spoke with lawyers compiling a protest case database to preserve the city’s rule of law, the activists writing letters to detained protesters, and the international lawyers who launched an advice website to inform Hongkongers of their legal rights. We also spoke with a refugee from Vietnam who was stuck behind bars for almost three decades after being convicted of murder as a teenager, and eventually decided to abandon his fight against deportation.

Amid the changes of 2021, a wave of Hongkongers left for the UK. HKFP was at the airport when long queues formed as people bid farewell to loved ones. In the UK, we reported on the people helping newly-arrived Hongkongers settle in, as well the pro-China groups pressuring them

Hong Kong also saw the implementation of a sweeping overhaul of the city’s electoral system. HKFP gave extensive coverage on the day of the city’s first “patriots-only” legislative election – candidates made urgent appeal to voters while Hong Kong saw the lowest turnout rate ever.

Following a 48-hour purge of Tiananmen Massacre monuments from university campuses over Christmas, we also spoke with students, academics, as well as artists behind the statues about what the removals meant for Hong Kong’s efforts to commemorate those who died in the military crackdown of student-led demonstrations over 32 years ago. 

Our team visited local businesses at risk of forced closure after government-led redevelopments in Fo Tan and Kwun Tong. Elsewhere, we spoke with the owners of Hong Kong’s remaining iconic Dai Pai Dongs facing eviction from their community, and the elderly villager fighting to save his home from developers in the New Territories. We also reported on the opening of the newly-revamped historic Central Market and the long-awaited M+ museum.

Covid-19 restrictions continued to disrupt Hongkongers’ daily lives last year. We examined government statistics to question whether the city’s severe quarantine measures were really necessary, how even vaccinated people were forced into quarantine centres, how foreign domestic workers faced more challenging working conditions during the pandemic, and the rise in discrimination against South-East Asians. We also delved into the trend of “vaccine selfies,” how pandemic-related pressure on airlines led some pilots to accuse companies of age discrimination, and the plight of those left stranded in the UK during Hong Kong’s months-long flight suspensions. 

Our pandemic coverage also tackled how the coronavirus made life even more difficult in the city’s sub-divided flats, the refugees excluded from the city’s vaccination programme, how local mask manufacturers survived in an inundated market, and how local businesses responded to the government-mandated tracing app

Beyond politics, we delved into the world of polyamory to explore how some Hongkongers navigate romantic ties beyond traditional partnerships, explored the little-known history of siu mai, met the bus fanatics turning Hong Kong bus seats into office chairs, and published a probe into one of the city’s oldest sporting associations. We also looked at how a Muslim headscarf sparked a discrimination row at a school and how volunteers helped to restore Hong Kong’s Hindu cemetery

2021 was also a big year for Hong Kong sports. We spoke to local athletes during the Tokyo games to learn about daily life at the Olympic village, as well as to the city’s Paralympians about their dreams of sporting glory. 

We continued to cover environmental and animal stories last year, including the threat to rare porpoises posed by a development off Lantau, and the task force fighting against dog poisonings

Last year, we produced 144 fully-fledged features, over 35 interviews, 256 opinion pieces and 276 stories on the ‘patriots only’ elections. We have also published over 1,000 stories on the national security law, and over 1,000 on Covid-19. HKFP Venture also relaunched with over a dozen guides to outdoor adventures.

We expanded our coverage from across the Taiwan Strait, profiling the people fighting for dual citizenship, Hong Kong artists in self-exile, the Hongkongers seeking to contribute to Taiwanese society, the launch of an ambitious new English-language news platform, and the Hongkongers who have joined the local movement to revive the use of Taiwanese in daily life. We also spoke with the Taiwanese maths teacher posting educational videos on Pornhub, cautiously asking: why?

Over the border in mainland China, we reported on a Hongkonger with a history of mental illness who was executed for drug trafficking despite pleas from family and rights groups. And further afield, we reported on the Hongkongers fighting for democracy in Myanmar after the military coup. 

Explanatory Reporting: HKFP continued its monthly explainer series on how the city has changed under the Beijing-enacted security law, and we continued our “shifting narratives” series on how the city’s leaders’ attitude towards the Tiananmen Massacre and the traditional mass pro-democracy marches on July 1 evolved over recent years.

We wrote explainers on major political developments, including how Beijing overhauled the city’s electoral system, how authorities moved to erase the memory of Tiananmen, and how the largest teachers’ union was forced to dissolve. We also explained how Hongkongers still found ways to resist despite the national security clampdown. 

HKFP also examined trends in leader Carrie Lam’s past policy addresses after she delivered the last one of her current term, analysing what it all meant for the city’s future

We broke down how Beijing’s overhaul of the city’s electoral process ensured that almost every candidate for the new Election Committee was guaranteed a seat. We looked at where Beijing’s national security crackdown has left the city’s pro-democracy camp, and who the approved candidates were in the city’s first legislative poll following the sweeping overhaul.

Our team also wrote practical guides informing our readers how to sign up for the government’s electronic stimulus vouchers, how to enter lucky draws for the fully vaccinated, how to get vaccinated against Covid-19, and how to write letters to prisoners

Interviews: Last year, we touched in again with Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei about what he saw as the future of art in the city. We also spoke with Democratic Party leader Lo Kin-hei about the party’s future in the shifting political climate, and political scientist Ma Ngok on what Beijing’s electoral overhaul means for democracy in Hong Kong. 

At the other end of the political spectrum, we spoke to the founder of the new pro-Beijing Bauhinia Party Charles Wong, and pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien on the future of Hong Kong politics. We also sat down with pro-Beijing figure Adrian Ho about running one of the city’s largest pro-establishment online communities. 

We spoke with a number of activists before they were put behind bars, including democrat and labour activist Raphael Wong ahead of his sentencing for an unauthorised assembly, and student activist Wong Yat-chin before he was arrested and denied bail under the security law.

We also spoke to other dissidents, including former student leader Owen Au about what he saw as the future of protest in the city and investigative journalist Bao Choy after her conviction over accessing public records for a documentary on alleged police collusion with triads.

We interviewed dissidents elsewhere in the region, including Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham about his arrest after a one-man protest. And during the Tokyo Olympics, we were the first newspaper to catch up with Hong Kong’s only gold medal winner, fencer Edgar Cheung, about how he kept calm under pressure. 

Arts: We also sat down with the city’s creatives, including the director of the protest documentary “Revolution of our Times” Kiwi Chow about why he is staying put in the city, musician Cehryl on the impact of Covid on live music, artist Sampson Wong on finding beauty in Hong Kong, and Yim Chiu-tong, the Plumber King, whose advertisements became part of a street art exhibition

In Taiwan, our reporter interviewed the island’s only weed lawyer, a politician defending democracy on Matsu island 17 km from mainland China, and dissident Wu’er Kaixi ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. And we also spoke with Taipei-based singer Kimberley Chen about shrugging off China’s censors. 

Authors: We spoke with journalist and author Joanna Chiu about her new book detailing China’s web of influence abroad and Western complicity in China’s rise, and veteran journalist Stephen Vines about his last book on Hong Kong before he fled back to the UK. 

‘Patriots poll: Ahead of the city’s first “patriots-only” legislative race, we spoke to three candidates from across the political spectrum including self-proclaimed non-pro-establishment Adrian Lau, Vincent Diu, an electrician who declared as independent, and Nixie Lam, who was seen by her pro-establishment supporters as their international spokesperson. After the race, we also sat down with Tik Chi-yuen, the only lawmaker-elect who claimed to be non-pro-establishment.  

Scoops: We broke the story of how mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Wikipedia users were fighting over the narrative of the Hong Kong protests on the site, and the ensuing safety concerns for Hong Kong users. As a result of our report on the Wikipedia wars, the site banned seven mainland Chinese users for “infiltration and exploitation.”  

We found Hong Kong public libraries had removed almost a fifth of titles relating to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre from their shelves since 2009, and that the Bar Association had launched probes into legal icons Martin Lee and Margaret Ng after their convictions for unauthorised assembly.

We also broke the story of how city authorities spent millions of taxpayer dollars to lobby Washington against the passing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act

2020 Achievements

NewsStream project complete: In 2019, HKFP won a US$78,400 (HK$615,440) Google News Initiative grant to create an open-source funding platform for small newsrooms focussed on nurturing reader membership. The funds went to third-party developers to help create NewsStream – a fundraising micro-site to reduce barriers and costs for independent news start-ups. Our new support.hongkongfp.com site finally launched in 2021, allowing readers to begin, pause and cancel memberships.

Redesign & promotion: The launch also included a design refresh across social media and new HKFP Patron promotions by szs.io.

2021 Funding Drive: With an accompanying video, HKFP beat its target of 1,000 monthly Patrons during our #PressingOn Funding Drive.

TapNGo: As part of our drive to make it as easy as possible to contribute, we brought TapNGo online, as a new payment method.

2021 expansion: HKFP hired three new staff at the end of 2021 and moved to a larger, private office at The Hive K-Town.

Prizes: HKFP won an honourable mention in the 2021 prestigious SOPA awards for Excellence in Opinion Writing: “Hong Kong’s protest movement in perspective” by Steve Vines bagged the prize. Meanwhile, our newsroom was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Fundraising: We raised over HK$100,000 selling books by columnist Steve Vines and ethical, organic #PressFreedom t-shirts.

Placement & Impact

Distribution Channels

HKFP 2022 Team

Transparency Report

Income:

As Hong Kong’s most transparent news outlet, and as a non-profit company, HKFP is externally audited annually. Our finalised, audited income during 2020, and our predicted income for 2021:

Income2021*20202019201820172016
Reader contributorsHK$4,164,565HK$6,357,972**HK$6,056,859**HK$2,463,408HK$1,769,760HK$1,063,125
Ads & content salesHK$198,983HK$110,247HK$271,066HK$136,084HK$328,759HK$92,276
EventsHK$0HK$0HK$263,361HK$24,390HK$0HK$8,352
Bank interestHK$25HK$10HK$226HK$21HK$1HK$12
Gov’t Covid subsidyHK$0HK$216,000HK$0HK$0HK$0HK$0
Total:HK$4,340,489HK$6,697,010HK$6,591,512HK$2,623,903HK$2,098,520HK$1,163,765
*Predicted, not yet audited. **Includes total of HK$610,431 for Google NewsStream grant (assigned to 3rd party developers; cannot be spent on HKFP costs). HK$23,084 subtracted as insurance refunds.

Income: HKFP is predicted to make a monthly loss of up to HK$100K in 2022, but is able to reinvest its previous surplus.

Our current revenue streams:

  • Reader contributions: includes one-off & monthly Patron contributions by cheque/transfer, cash, PayPal & card, as well as merch sales profit & shopping referral links.
  • Ads & content sales: includes ad income from display ads; Apple News & Facebook ads, Google/YouTube ads, directly purchased rate card ads & content sales [from media outlets, institutions and syndication partners LexisNexis, Dow Jones Factiva & Nordot.]

Surplus recycled: As a non-profit, with no shareholders or investors, HKFP’s surplus was recycled back into the company for use in 2021. As of 2021, HKFP is retaining a HK$1.5m legal defence fund in light of new threats to press freedom.

Efficiency: 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 and making full use of teamwork and automation to save on costs.

Staffing: During 2020, we employed 5-6 full-time staff members and expanded our pool of freelancers. We spent 72% of our income on paying our hard-working staff and freelancers.

Spending:

HKFP Patrons in 2021: HKFP relies on a membership model. Small amounts of income from a large pool of Patrons helps support our team, sustain our operations with more security, and guarantee our independence. Our monthly income as of January 2022:

  • The number of HKFP Patrons rose by 20.4% in 2021, whilst income from Patrons rose almost 16% to HK$204,063. Most Patrons are from Hong Kong, though we also have backers in the US, UK, Australia and China.
  • In addition to the above, we receive at least HK$10,000 per month from offline donors who contribute via cheque, transfer/FPS or by coin donation via CoinDragon.
  • Patrons are given priority and/or free entry to HKFP events, merch and our Annual Report.

Finalised expenditure for our latest audited year, 2020, & our predicted 2021 spending:

Expenditure2021*20202019201820172016
Full-time staff payrollHK$1,952,852HK$1.599mHK$1.606mHK$1.499mHK$1.340mHK$1.035m
Mandatory Provident Fund (pensions)HK$76,442HK$72,221HK$68,123HK$69,234HK$66,180HK$50,942
Web & software, newswire, commissionHK$140,992HK$132,269HK$80,038HK$129,543HK$58,693HK$33,083
Office, sundry, recruitment/training, telecomHK$198,116HK$109,289HK$164,256HK$110,414HK$57,565HK$25,801
Meals/drinks for volunteers/staff/sourcesHK$18,554HK$18,324HK$29,686HK$14,028HK$17,106HK$25,531
Legal, professional, registration, auditHK$35,422HK$96,505HK$12,340HK$7,385HK$45,231HK$10,845
Travel & insuranceHK$4,069HK$72,391HK$50,615HK$78,067HK$8,169HK$8,267
Stationery, merch, postage, printingHK$201,534HK$208,544HK$42,311HK$11,827HK$686HK$17,124
Bank charges, penalties & exchange lossesHK$3,335HK$13,752HK$4,240HK$1,705HK$1,170HK$2,218
Freelancer payments & gearHK$934,621HK$595,693HK$289,387HK$64,400HK$34,090HK$0
TaxHK$52,304HK$408,496HK$509,211HK$29,816HK$13,343HK$0
AdvertisingHK$78,745HK$6,914HK$36,597HK$34,371HK$10,261HK$0
Membership, research/polls, repairs & otherHK$25,070HK$118,800
Total:HK$3.79mHK$3.04m*HK$2.89m*HK$2.04mHK$1.65mHK$1.20m
*Predicted, not yet audited. **As part of its 2019 & 2020 expenditure, HKFP contributed 30% of the cost of its NewsStream Google project, totalling HK$130,204. †Excludes tax.

HKFP Press Freedom Update

January 2021

  • The Hong Kong government announced a decision to move Covid-19 press briefings online. It backtracked following criticism from a Hong Kong journalism watchdog.
  • Police demanded Apple Daily hand over the information on journalists who searched for public vehicle licence plate records.
  • Police visited the newsrooms of Apple Daily, InMedia and StandNews with search warrants demanding documents relating to the primary election for LegCo in July 2020.
  • The head of RTHK, Leung Ka-wing, advised staff not to interview the 55 democrats arrested under the national security law over their alleged involvement in the primary.
  • Three people convicted of rioting and assaulting a mainland journalist at the airport during anti-government protests in 2019 were jailed for up to 5 1/2 years.
  • Bao Choy pleaded not guilty to making false statements after she obtained vehicle registration information for a film about the 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks.
  • The head of Hong Kong’s largest police union slammed public broadcaster RTHK for allegedly biased reporting of a weekend lockdown to combat Covid-19.

February 2021

March 2021

April 2021

May 2021

June 2021

July 2021

August 2021

September 2021

October 2021

November 2021

December 2021

January 2022

Support HKFP into 2022

Not-for-profit, run by journalists and completely independent, the HKFP team relies on readers to keep us going and to help safeguard press freedom.

Associate Editor Mercedes Hutton, Reporter Kelly Ho, Reporter Hillary Leung, Reporter Peter Lee, Reporter Selina Cheng, Reporter Candice Chau and Editor-in-Chief Tom Grundy.

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