Working at Apple Daily is a dream job for many local journalists, and I believe its newsroom provides the most freedom of press atmosphere among all local media.
The national security law [NSL] is a new law, and is so different from any laws in Hong Kong, and we have had no chance to even discuss or learn it. This was a law directly set up by the Chinese government, and as journalists, we could of course sense its impact, and had a strong feeling that Apple Daily was one of its main targets.
But on the other hand, being journalists at Apple Daily, we kept reminding ourselves to use a very high standard of writing in our articles. We tried to be professional. However, if we look at the results now, some of our colleagues are being charged by the government. So that is obviously not enough.
Before the NSL, we didn’t do self-censorship, but maybe since May 2020, reporters hide their bylines when writing articles – one of the reasons being the NSL – and we had some other concerns, because Apple Daily journalists were being doxxed by the pro-establishment side. This change was used to prevent harassment.
After the NSL, I am not sure “self-censorship” is a good word to describe what we have done. As I said above, we have had no chance to understand this new law, we can just try our best to be careful. We fine tuned the wordings we used in articles, and also we cut off some connections from overseas. For example, we stopped asking for comments from overseas politicians to avoid accusations.
The disappearance of Apple Daily is one of the biggest changes to the city after the NSL. But lots of other civil groups including the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, faced a similar situation to Apple Daily. People in these groups are being charged under the NSL too.
However, the Hong Kong government and high level officers keep saying the NSL helps Hong Kong return to normality and peace, and they also claim Apple Daily is the main reason why there were “riots” in 2019. Also, they keep saying there is freedom of press in Hong Kong, but there is no doubt that being a journalist is no longer an easy job.
If a journalist insists on telling the truth, he or she may be taking a risk, and the worst is facing charges by NSL, prison and loss of freedom. Freedom is something we have lost now, from freedom of speech to freedom of press.
Some people may suggest that if you obey and follow the law, you will be fine, but I am sure this is not how freedom exists, and such a “partial freedom” should not be recognized as true freedom.
This may be the worst of times, but it can also be the best of times. Perhaps this is a very good reminder, to remind us we should always find a way to walk, and find something to do, but of course we need to be smart, and more and more – be careful.
The author is a former Apple Daily reporter writing anonymously to protect their identity from the CCP.