Making a degree: Hong Kong journalists regroup overseas


When Hong Kong’s pro-democracy information retailers Apple Daily and Stand News have been compelled to shut by authorities in 2021 below a sweeping Beijing-led crackdown on dissent, Jane Poon made herself a promise.

Poon, a Hong Konger who labored within the metropolis’s media for nearly three many years earlier than shifting to Australia in 2017, promised to do no matter she might to maintain the spirit of the defunct retailers alive.

After greater than a 12 months of planning, Poon’s imaginative and prescient grew to become a actuality in mid-January with the launch of The Points, a brand new on-line media outlet devoted to overlaying information about Hong Kong and its rising diaspora.

Based solely abroad, The Points, which publishes in Chinese, hopes to fill the hole left by the demise of most impartial media in Hong Kong, the place journalists now face the chance of arrest and imprisonment for protection thought-about vital of Beijing.

The Points’s workers is made up of former workers of Hong Kong media, together with Apply Daily and Stand News, who moved abroad amid the town’s crackdown on press freedom and different civil liberties.

With workers in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the outlet hopes to be the primary 24-hour information operation for Hong Kong that’s primarily based exterior the town.

The Points’s latest protection contains the Hong Kong Legislative Council’s unannounced resolution to redact the names of legislators in transcripts of official proceedings, and a latest assembly between Hong Kong activists and Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong.

“As some Hong Kong journalists disperse to other places, I think that although the Hong Kong media is in a difficult situation, it might also be a chance to turn a crisis into an opportunity,” Poon, who labored for Apple Daily’s dad or mum firm as the top of digital information for Next Magazine, advised Al Jazeera.

“We could set up a media platform for the journalists in various places who may work together to cover stories across countries for the Hong Kong diaspora, and also cover stories which are not allowed to be published in Hong Kong anymore.”

Media hobbled

Hong Kong, a British colony for greater than 150 years earlier than its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, was lengthy thought to be one in every of Asia’s most vibrant and freewheeling media scenes till the imposition of a Beijing-drafted nationwide safety legislation in 2020.

Since then, many of the metropolis’s pro-democracy media have been compelled to close down or determined to shut out of fear of being focused by authorities.

Jimmy Lai, the garment-factory proprietor turned media tycoon who based Apple Daily, is going through as much as life in jail in a sedition and overseas collusion trial scheduled to start in September following repeated delays.

In November, six of Lai’s former workers, together with Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief, pleaded responsible to conspiring to collude with overseas forces by advocating for sanctions in opposition to the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments.

Two former editors of Stand News, which closed in December 2021 after its places of work have been raided by nationwide safety police, are at present on trial for sedition.

Last 12 months, Hong Kong’s world press freedom rating plunged nearly 70 locations to 148, in accordance with Reporters Without Borders. The territory, which was promised a excessive diploma of autonomy and civil liberties that don’t exist in mainland China for at the very least 50 years after the handover, ranked 18th in 2002.

A Woman Hands Out Final Editions Of The Apple Daily As People Queue To Buy It.
People queued to purchase the ultimate version of the Apple Daily, which was compelled to shut in 2021 [File: Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

More than 1,500 journalists in Hong Kong have been put out of labor within the crackdown, in accordance with an evaluation carried out by Bloomberg News final 12 months, with many former media staff shifting into different industries or migrating abroad.

At the identical time, the rising Hong Kong diaspora — about 150,000 Hong Kongers have moved to the UK alone for the reason that passage of the National Security Law – has created alternatives for brand spanking new methods to report on Hong Kong.

The Points follows the launch of quite a few different Hong Kong-focused retailers positioned overseas, together with Flow HK, which relies in Taiwan, and Commons Hong Kong, which relies within the UK and Taiwan.

“There’s always a need for a vibrant, independent press. It’s hopeful to see resilient journalists inside and outside Hong Kong continue their excellent journalism,” Iris Hsu, China consultant for the Committee to Protect Journalists, advised Al Jazeera.

“If the overseas media outlets provide a safer platform for Hong Kong’s critical journalism that has been under attack for years, it would help preserve Hong Kong’s press freedom and slow the government’s deliberate erosion of checks and balances of power.”

The Hong Kong authorities has repeatedly insisted that the town’s press freedom stays intact. Hong Kong’s chief John Lee final 12 months mentioned there was no want to speak about defending press freedom as a result of it “exists and we attach great importance to press freedom”.

Reaching throughout the divides

For now, The Points has a modest measurement and reach.

The outlet depends on six full-time journalists and freelancers, in accordance with Poon, who mentioned the web site attracts about 3,000-4000 readers every day, though that quantity is rising quick.

Finn Lau, The Points’s government director, mentioned the outlet depends on a small pool of reader donations to pay its workers and is exploring different sources of income, which might embrace authorities grants or rich donors.

“Financial sustainability is one of the key issues, that’s why it took us around 15 months to prepare our media before launch,” Lau advised Al Jazeera. “For the upcoming two years, our top priority must be to get the media [outlet] to be financially sustainable.”

Despite its hyperlinks to Apple Daily, The Points can be eager to reach Hong Kong individuals from throughout the political spectrum and to keep away from expenses of political bias and sensationalism that critics levelled on the defunct tabloid, mentioned Lau, a Hong Kong activist identified for his opposition to Beijing.

“We don’t want to overly politicise our media outlet,” mentioned Lau, who popularised a protest technique of escalating violence referred to as “Lam Chau” throughout anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020.

“On the other hand, we don’t want to self-censor. So we are trying to find a dedicated balance between being a tabloid or being a so-called … intellectual newspaper.”

Journalist Bao Choy Speaking To The Media Outside Court. She Is Wearing A Black Face Mask. People Behind Her Are Holding Up Signs Reading 'Fearless'.
Journalists have come below growing stress for the reason that nationwide safety legislation was handed. Bao Choy Yuk-Ling was convicted of accessing public knowledge for a documentary on a mob assault in the course of the 2019 protests [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Apart from monetary challenges, The Points has had hassle getting the phrase out on social media.

Soon after its launch, the outlet’s Twitter account was suspended with out warning or clarification, Lau mentioned.

Lau mentioned the account had not violated Twitter’s phrases of service, however it might have been focused with vexatious complaints by pro-Beijing figures or fallen sufferer to the scarcity of workers on the platform following Elon Musk’s takeover. The account has but to be reinstated.

“We are very frustrated with Twitter and we are still considering what we should do with this platform,” he mentioned.

Still, Lau has large ambitions for the media outlet.

“I am rather optimistic about the visibility of this project. Actually I am a pragmatic dreamer,” he mentioned. “That’s why I believe it might take one or two years to stabilise.”

For Poon, the launch of The Points is about greater than upholding press freedom. She hopes the outlet will help protect Hong Kong’s distinct tradition and values.

“We have our next generation. We have to look after our children,” she mentioned.

“That’s why it’s important to have our own media, to tell our own stories. Then our history and everything can be given down to our next generation.”