Hong Kong online media may be next target of suppression

Reporters of Apple Daily bow to thank their supporters at the headquarters in Hong Kong on Thursday.
Police officers gather at the lobby of headquarters of Apple Daily in Hong Kong on June 17.

HONG KONG — As Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, known for its vocal criticism of the Chinese Communist regime, was forced to cease publication, speculation is rising about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy online media outlets becoming the authorities’ next target. The situation is also likely to lead to further self-censorship among media workers to avoid prosecution under the draconian national security law.

“For the way forward, I’m considering freelancing,” a male Apple Daily reporter, 48, told The Yomiuri Shimbun on Thursday, the day Apple Daily published its final issue.

About 800 workers including reporters will lose their jobs following the newspaper’s closure, and it will not be easy for former reporters of an outlet suppressed by the authorities to find new jobs with local media outlets.

Other media houses are not secure either. The online media outlet Stand News is widely considered to be in a particularly dangerous position. On Wednesday, when Apple Daily announced its decision to cease publication the following day, Stand News livestreamed the process of making the final issue of the paper from Apple Daily’s newsroom, and reported an Apple Daily employee saying: “Freedoms of the press and speech are lost in Hong Kong. I feel hollowed out.”

Stand News expressed a sense of crisis for the loss of free media in a Thursday article, writing, “In Hong Kong, there are only online media outlets left.”

Founded in 2014, Stand News is said to have strong support from pro-democracy young people, and Hong Kong singer Denise Ho is among its board members. Ho has been banned from performing in mainland China since she supported the 2014 Umbrella Movement, a student-led movement that occupied streets in central Hong Kong demanding universal suffrage.

Pro-China Hong Kong media outlets have been hostile to Stand News. On Thursday, Sing Tao Daily reported that Stand News was likely to be the “next target for punishment,” based on a comment made by the leader of a pro-China political party who criticized Stand News as a media outlet that “tried to kill Hong Kong.”

Chinese state-backed Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao in its June 18 editorial called out Stand News as “anti-Chinese” and posed a cynical question: “How long can media outlets like Apple Daily remain free?”

Another online media outlet supported by pro-democracy residents is Citizen News. Some of the former staff of a TV station known for investigative reporting on mainland China-related issues now work for Citizen News.

After the implementation of the national security law last year, tendencies toward self-censorship have been growing. Even media outlets not considered to be in the pro-democracy camp are seemingly more cautious, avoiding interviews with figures seen to be pro-democracy, for example.

Ronson Chan, chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, lamented, “The safest thing may be to not write anything at all.”