Hong Kong and the future of Chinese-language journalism

Author: Joyce Nip, University of Sydney

The closure of Apple Daily is symbolic of the rapid decline in press freedom in Hong Kong since the enactment of the National Security Act on July 1, 2020.

Beijing is pushing for greater cultural integration between Hong Kong and mainland China through a new state-owned enterprise, which will oversee mainland China’s media, publishing and cultural operations in the Special Administrative Region. Its first move was to buy Phoenix Television and become its major shareholder.

Since the early 2000s, enjoying greater freedom under the “one country, two systems” arrangement, critical, citizen and professional news media have emerged on digital platforms in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, digital media launched by individuals and state media supporting Beijing has also spread. The National Security Law now poses unprecedented challenges to the remaining spaces of independent journalism in Hong Kong. Ext. 852 ceased its information activities and D100 the radio suspended one of its channels after the arrest of one of its hosts on grounds of national security.

Other independent media continue uncompromisingly, but some fear they won’t be around for a long time.

On the occasion of the second anniversary of the Yuen Long attacks of July 21, News from the standHong Kong’s largest social media provider of information released an explosive video report that provided evidence that the attacks were carried out by thugs for pay. But when two pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong contradicted the video report, News from the stand had to stress again that their investigation was limited to scrutiny Public communications on social media and did not include private social media group from which the conflicting evidence is said to have originated.

This case illustrates the increased demand placed on critical journalists in Hong Kong. Every detail has to be right, otherwise the reporter and the organization could get into trouble. The government is already considering legislating against fake news and disinformation.

Sourcing information is becoming increasingly difficult, especially for information providers who focus on systemic issues rather than accidental events. As civil servants pledge loyalty to the government and unions and political groups are dissolved, the news agenda easily becomes dominated by government and big business.

It is this operational environment that budding journalists in Hong Kong face. The Hong Kong Journalists Association has traditionally supported the professional development of journalists, but its legitimacy is contested by the Chinese party media and the Hong Kong security chief. These difficulties do not yet deter young people from enrolling in journalism programs. But will there be room for critical journalism when they’re ready to publish?

After his collective resignation at the end of 2020, the China reporting team of I-Cable news found a new home in New citizens. But they no longer have correspondents stationed in Beijing or Guangzhou.

In the face of uncertainty, News from the stand removed columns and opinion pieces published before May 2021 from its website for the safety of contributors and stopped accepting donations.

Initium, winner of several awards for in-depth reporting on mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, announced in early August that it would move its headquarters from Hong Kong to Singapore. Although Singapore is not known for press freedom, the move puts the media out of the immediate control of the target of its critical reporting. He said, “Mainland China and Hong Kong will remain our priority.”

Chinese-language news providers in Hong Kong primarily target the local audience, but the plight they face has ramifications for the wider news ecosystem. Market-oriented journalism in mainland China was once bold, and the news outlets in Hong Kong lent their support by posting sensitive stories that their counterparts across the border shared with them. Those days are over.

Other independent news providers in Hong Kong continue to provide critical coverage for China. The New citizens The Chinese team, for example, reported on the sentencing of Chinese citizens who leaked details of Xi Jinping’s family on the internet, although mainstream media backed away from the story. But editor-in-chief Szeto Yuen said in May that he believes the remaining freedom may come to an end soon.

When that happens, international media coverage in China and Hong Kong will suffer, as reports published in Hong Kong will provide material for media organizations elsewhere. The expulsion of Chinese correspondents from Western media only strengthens the role of Hong Kong media.

Globally, Chinese language news is dominated by the Chinese state and state partner media. While they target the Chinese diaspora, the majority being emigrants from mainland China, the recent migration out of Hong Kong may open up opportunities for the development of Hong Kong-oriented Chinese-language journalism in other places. country.

With its freedom of the press, Taiwan has the potential to become the future base of independent journalism in the greater Chinese region. More and more Chinese correspondents for Western media have settled in Taiwan. But so far, the Taiwanese media has focused on relations between Taiwan and mainland China rather than the dynamics within China or Hong Kong. That will have to change before they can play a bigger role in reporting on China. The risk of forced unification by Beijing, of course, is its ever-present vulnerability.

Joyce YM Nip is Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communications and the Department of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney.

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