Hong Kong News Closures a Blow to Investigative Journalism

Stand News raided and shut down, other outlets fold . . . 

Three major Chinese-language news outlets in Hong Kong have shut down in the last week, raising new alarm over the city’s press freedoms. Last Wednesday, police raided Stand News, seizing its assets, files, and computers, and arrested seven current and former editors and board members. On Monday, Citizen News voluntarily shut down in response to the Stand Newsraid to ensure staff safety. Mad Dog Daily also announced it was closing for similar reasons. Government officials alleged that Stand News had “stirred up hatred against the government,” but Citizen News executives said there was a lack of clarity over what content from Stand News was considered illegal.

Canadian arrested . . .

Among the arrested Stand News board members was Denise Ho, a Cantopop singer and Canadian citizen known for her pro-democracy and LGBTQ rights advocacy. In a tweet shortly after the raid, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said that Canadian consular officials were ready to provide Ho “assistance on the ground.” Ho was released on bail after 36 hours, although two former chief editors were denied bail and charged with conspiracy “to publish seditious publications.” The use of the sedition charge is a growing trend in national security-related arrests in Hong Kong. Already charged twice under the National Security Law, Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai and six former colleagues were newly charged with sedition on December 28, the day before the Stand News raid and arrests.

Whither Hong Kong’s independent press?

The closure of these media outlets will dramatically change Hong Kong’s journalistic landscape, and not just through a chilling effect. Unlike popular pro-democracy tabloid Apple DailyStand News and Citizen News represented a new generation of online media devoted to investigative reporting and were consistently rated in opinion polls as the city’s most trustworthy. These outlets also focused on social issues often ignored by mainstream media, such as workers’ strikes and detainee conditions, with a panache for live reporting on street demonstrations. The few remaining independent outlets will urgently have to decide whether to stay, close, or leave the city and report from afar. Even Hong Kong’s mainstream press is feeling the heat. Today, Ming Pao, a respected centrist newspaper, began adding disclaimers on its opinion pages to disarm potential sedition charges. More closures and constraints are likely.