On June 30, 2020, Beijing imposed a wide-reaching national security law. Though the situation is uncertain, and the law largely untested, HKFP is regularly examining how it can adapt amid heightened press freedom concerns.
How is HKFP reacting to the security law?
The security law includes several articles which are of concern to the press, with Article 9 proposing “guidance, supervision and regulation” of the media. It is also noted that press freedom is guaranteed in the security law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the bill of rights, and the Chinese constitution, hence HKFP intends to stay in the city.
Though the situation is unclear and press freedom stipulations have yet to be tested in courts, HKFP has nevertheless sought legal and business advice and stepped up security. We expect the local media will have to navigate increased bureaucratic and legal scrutiny owing to the passages in the law which make reference to the press. In 2022, we expect more legislation that will affect the press, including a “fake news” law.
How does HKFP protect sources?
All HKFP staff use only work-provided, encrypted phones and we offer several channels for secure communication about sensitive matters. Under Article 43 of the security law, any refusal to hand over information about a suspect’s identity can lead to a fine or jail sentence. Meanwhile, Article 4 of the security law guarantees the freedom of the press.
HKFP staff are ready to fulfil our commitment to uphold press freedom and protect sources who we rely on as part of the normal, traditional news-gathering process. We will uphold the journalistic tradition in handling sensitive information carefully and resist data requests to the fullest extent of the law and our means.
Do you still accept reader support as usual?
Yes. As always, contributions to HKFP – a registered company and newspaper – are carried out securely via robust, industry-standard encryption. Transaction records are stored behind multiple-factor security. Like any company, the law obliges us to keep records of income/spending for book-keeping purposes – it also obliges us to keep records secure and private. Accounting records are overseen by our accountant and yearly auditors, and we respect the anti-money laundering ordinance so may request “know your client” information from larger contributors.
As a strictly impartial news outlet registered with the authorities, we expect to continue fundraising and accepting contributions from our readers at home and abroad, since our funding model is extremely common among news outlets worldwide (our model is based on The Guardian’s). There are over a dozen ways to support us – please contact us for further details.
Can contributors ask for content to be removed? Can writers use a pseudonym?
Since adopting our Code of Ethics in 2020, we do not allow new writers to use pseudonyms except in “very exceptional circumstances.” This is in the interests of accountability, transparency and credibility.
For similar reasons, HKFP will resist all requests to remove any content from its archive – a historical record – except in extreme, provable circumstances, at our discretion or if required to do so by a court of law.
Has press freedom been affected since the security law was enacted?
After the security law was adopted, police arrested the owner of the pro-democracy Apple Daily Jimmy Lai in August, 2020 for allegedly “colluding” with foreign forces. Over 100 officers raided the tabloid’s offices that month, and they were raided again in June 2021. Later that month, the Immigration Department denied a work visa for HKFP’s incoming editor without reason. In September, 2020, new police guidelines stated that the Force would no longer recognise local press passes and – instead – only outlets registered with the government would be recognised. In November 2020, an RTHK journalist who investigated the police was arrested over accessing vehicle registration records amid a wider crackdown on the public broadcaster. Local independent outlet Stand News was raided in late 2021, with its editors arrested under the colonial sedition law. It shut down, along with Citizen News, all within the same week. Meanwhile, the government is considering a “fake news” law, whilst a Beijing official has said media outlets should be governed “by patriots” in Hong Kong.
Is HKFP’s coverage affected?
It is difficult to predict how the courts may interpret the law – officials are giving mixed messages over how it affects the press. Specific questions about what is acceptable and not remain unanswered. Cases involving media outlets have yet to reach a verdict so the situation remains uncertain.
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 though 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 that readers will spot. 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. We do not believe there are any Hong Kong stories we would not be able to report and – thanks to your support – the HKFP team will continue to hold the line and press on.